Focusing on two of Henry James’s earliest novels, Roderick Hudson (1875) and The American (1877), this essay explores the ways in which James’s initial formulation of his signature ‘international theme’ intersects with nineteenth-century discourses on fame. Roderick Hudson positions the eponymous American sculptor as a lion and notable in Europe, and then shows his fatal attempts to transcend the objectification and commodification that accompany fame. In The American the protagonist, Christopher Newman, is briefly lionized by French aristocrats, the Bellegardes; to make him socially acceptable to them, he is displayed as a notable within their exclusive, privileged circle, but is afterwards publicly spurned. Both novels provocatively contrast the fate of these American men with the successful use of the mechanisms of fame by two women. In Roderick Hudson, the Europeanized American Christina Light successfully brands and markets her beauty, and becomes, through marriage, a figure of aristocratic renown, the Princess Casamassima. In The American, the French copyist Noémie Nioche effectively negotiates her rise in the world through self-display and self-promotion and finally passes as a noblewoman. Drawing on imagery of statuary, performance, and display, these novels foreground links and conflicts between newer forms of recognition associated with notability and celebrity and older ideas of aristocratic renown. Moreover, using the figure of the American in Europe, James draws attention to the complex ways nationality and gender interconnect in constructions of public recognition.
- American literature
- Henry James