Ideas of life and their moral force in the novels of Henry James
This thesis analyzes the operation, in much of Henry James's fiction, of ideas about how people should live, and explores the manner in which these ideas operate to affect the meaning and moral structure of many of his novels. It is proposed that James's fiction displays a form of limited moral pragmatism: it is argued that James is deeply and consistently preoccupied in his fiction with the notion of an attractive, purposeful, fulfilling life in relation to which the varied placing of his characters has strong effects upon the moral judgements invited by his novels, as well as upon their central meanings. The introduction having explained the principles on which texts have been selected for analysis makes clear that the approach in the thesis will be to seek evidence, for its claims, chiefly in the texts of the novels, rather than in other written material by James, or in biographical information about him (though this is not ignored) on the grounds that approaches to his fiction which concentrate too little on the texts have often distorted their meanings. Through the approach here, it is sought to discover fresh implications in his work, and to reassess some existing views. The first chapter, which discusses 'life' and 'morality' in relation to James's fiction, ends with a brief analysis of important passages in The Portrait of a Lady. There follow four chapters, each providing extensive analysis of one of James's last four major novels, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. The conclusion attempts to draw together what has been discovered about 'life' and its relation to morality in James.