Kovács, Ágnes Zsófia
Dr. Ágnes Zsófia Kovács is Assistant Professor of American Studies in the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Szeged, Hungary. She earned her Ph.D. from the same university. Dr. Kovács has published and presented numerous papers.2006 0-7734-5787-9
The book investigates the ways in which Henry James uses the term ‘the imagination’ in three different discursive contexts: in his critical articles on novelists and literature, in his fictional production, and in his essays on American culture. The book differentiates the diverse meanings the term ‘the imagination’ has for James in different contexts and thereby places his novelistic project among those of American, French, English, and Russian writers of his age. The work offers a case study of the Jamesian ideas with some reference to his contemporary context.
In general, the Jamesian imagination proves to be a part of James’s contextual model of understanding. In his critical articles on other novelists, the imagination is mainly responsible for an active, profound transformation of impressions into a process of experience, and this quality of the imagination is referred to as moral. In the novels, the imagination retains its central role in the process of understanding, but understanding becomes a social affair of more than one person. The morality of the imagination in this social sense lies in the perceiver’s awareness of others’ versions of understanding and in making his choices as to which one he chooses to accept. In the essays on American culture, the implicit norm of the socially defined moral imagination leads James to pass harsh judgement on Americans he no longer understands. The term ‘the imagination’ is defined cognitively in the critical articles, but in the novels its function becomes a social one: for James the author, the imagination is not so much a faculty of personal experience and knowledge but one of social experience and of a communal production of knowledge. The moral aspect of the imagination becomes social in the novels, too, referring to the choices one makes in relations to others. In the essays on culture, this social ideal of imaginative understanding is applied through a discussion of American manners. The term ‘the imagination’ refers to the imagination of the author-narrator, the character, and the critic as well, and thereby expands to be an aspect of literary communication. In this way, the intellectual project James the critic outlined for himself as a novelist at the crossroads of American, French, and English traditions of the novel has evolved through the changes of his contextual model of understanding. For James the novelist and cultural critic, the project has become an imaginative processing of the moral aspects of social interactions.