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“A garden in the middle of the sea”: Henry James’s The Aspern Papers and Transnational American Studies

Keywords: Henry James , Transnational American Studies , Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Abstract:

Nicole Waller’s study of Henry James’s The Aspern Papers examines how conventional literary studies’ approaches (those that depend on biography and character analysis) may tether James’s work to a set of values that reinscribe the hierarchies that his narrative specifically sets adrift. Reviewing various newer paradigms in American Studies—the border, immigrant studies, the Black Atlantic, Native American encounters—Waller relies on a subset of transnational studies, Atlantic studies, to utilize the metaphors of circulation and exchange, of fluidity and drift, of space and dislocation, to argue for a reading of James’s The Aspern Papers as a dislocated response to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work The House of the Seven Gables. Reading The Aspern Papers closely against Hawthorne’s work, and comparing the European perspectives in both James’s and Hawthorne’s works, Waller suggests that in The Aspern Papers James affords a reading of the transnational experience as a generative gesture, where a Venetian “garden in the middle of the sea” may serve as an abode more fruitful (despite losses) and more productive than the fires to which Hawthorne condemns Italian villages in The Marble Faun. Waller’s interest in the fluid spaces between the works of James and Hawthorne is echoed by both transnational American Studies and the essay itself in the unnamed narrator’s instructions to the gondolier: “Go anywhere. . . .”

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