14 July 2008

Outcry notes

Notes from Thursday’s discussion.


  1. We are moving back to St. Mary’s Hall – we decided that it was too cold to have class outside.
  2. We made several of the assignments for presentations – please email me ASAP and let me know what text you would like to do if you have not already signed up for something.

Discussing The Outcry:

The controversy over art at the turn of the century

  • Because of the declining fortunes of the aristocracy in England (and the needs of the state to deal with the recession at the end of the nineteenth century as well as the growing cost of empire, taxes were raised on the aristocracy), aristocrats began to sell off their art to American industrialists.
  • The most famous of these sales (though, in the end the sale never went through) was the Duke of Norfolk who put up his Hans Holbein for sale.
  • See the NY Times for more details: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E02E5DC1E31E733A25752C3A9639C946897D6CF

The fast-paced changes taking place in England that are reflected in the novel

  • There are at the beginning of the 20th century, some 370 bicycle factories in London (and a growing class differentiation between those who can afford cars and those who drive bicycles)
  • Electricity was being introduced to the domestic space (the electric bells, for instance)
  • The tube and the tramways (which facilitated the ease of transportation within and without England)
  • The rise of London as an international center of global finance and banking
  • And the remarkable growth of a reading public with access to newspapers

The main themes of The Outcry

  • Are the aristocracy the appropriate guardians of the nation’s “art-wealth”?
  • If art doesn’t originate in England, is it still part of the nation’s “art-wealth”?
  • What is the difference between American “theft” of English art and English theft of Italian art?
  • What are the relationships (ideological and material) between the marriage market and the art market?
  • Why does James use similar vocabulary to describe the marriage plot and the art-sale plot?
  • What makes The Outcry a comedy, in general, and a Shakespearean comedy, in particular?
  • Why is there a particular panic about the size and scale of American wealth?
  • What can we determine about the nature of the reading public, its ideological investments in this “epidemic,” and James’ particular understanding of the problem of the sale of art from close readings of the novel?

Some of the passages we talked about:

  • From Chapter 2: "Mr. Bender had six feet of stature and an air as of having received benefits at the hands of fortune. Substantial, powerful, easy, he shone as with a glorious cleanness, a supplied and equipped and appointed sanity and security; aids to action that might have figured a pair of very ample wings--wide pinions for the present conveniently folded, butthat he would certainly on occasion agitate for great efforts and spreadfor great flights. These things would have made him quite an admirable,even a worshipful, image of full-blown life and character, had notthe affirmation and the emphasis halted in one important particular.Fortune, felicity, nature, the perverse or interfering old fairy at his cradle-side--whatever the ministering power might have been--had simplyoverlooked and neglected his vast wholly-shaven face, which thus showed not so much for perfunctorily scamped as for not treated, as for neitherformed nor fondled nor finished, at all. Nothing seemed to have been done for it but what the razor and the sponge, the tooth-brush and the looking-glass could officiously do; it had in short resisted any possibly finer attrition at the hands of fifty years of offered experience. It had developed on the lines, if lines they could becalled, of the mere scoured and polished and initialled "mug" rather than to any effect of a composed physiognomy; though we must at the same time add that its wearer carried this featureless disk as with the warranted confidence that might have attended a warning headlight or a glaring motor-lamp. The object, however one named it, showed you atleast where he was, and most often that he was straight upon you. It was fearlessly and resistingly across the path of his advance that Lady Sandgate had thrown herself, and indeed with such success that he soon connected her demonstration with a particular motive. "For your grandmother, Lady Sandgate?" he then returned."
  • From Chapter 6: "Lord Theign, confessedly and amiably interested, had accepted these intimations--yet with the very blandness that was not accessible to hustling and was never forgetful of its standing privilege of criticism. He had come in from his public duty, a few minutes before, somewhat flushed and blown; but that had presently dropped--to the effect, we should have guessed, of his appearing to Lord John at least as cool as the occasion required. His appearance, we ourselves certainly should have felt, was in all respects charming--with the great note of it the beautiful restless, almost suspicious, challenge to you, on the part of deep and mixed things in him, his pride and his shyness, his conscience, his taste and his temper, to deny that he was admirably simple. Obviously, at this rate, he had a passion for simplicity--simplicity, above all, of relation with you, and would show you, with the last subtlety of displeasure, his impatience of your attempting anything more with himself. With such an ideal of decent ease he would, confound you, "sink" a hundred other attributes--or the recognition at least and the formulation of them--that you might abjectly have taken for granted in him: just to show you that in a beastly vulgar age you had, and small wonder, a beastly vulgar imagination. He sank thus, surely, in defiance of insistent vulgarity, half his consciousness of his advantages, flattering himself that mere facility and amiability, a true effective, a positively ideal suppression of reference in any one to anything that might complicate, alone floated above. This would be quite his religion, you might infer--to cause his hands to ignore in whatever contact any opportunity, however convenient, for an unfair pull. Which habit it was that must have produced in him a sort of ripe and radiant fairness; if it be allowed us, that is, to figure in so shining an air a nobleman of fifty-three, of an undecided rather than a certified frame or outline, of a head thinly though neatly covered and not measureably massive, of an almost trivial freshness, of a face marked but by a fine inwrought line or two and lighted by a merely charming expression. You might somehow have traced back the whole character so presented to an ideal privately invoked--that of his establishing in the formal garden of his suffered greatness such easy seats and short perspectives, such winding paths and natural-looking waters, as would mercifully break up thescale. You would perhaps indeed have reflected at the same time that thethought of so much mercy was almost more than anything else the thought of a great option and a great margin--in fine of fifty alternatives. Which remarks of ours, however, leave his lordship with his last immediate question on his hands."

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