The Closing of an American Vision: Alien National Narrative in Henry James’s The American Scene
When he left Southampton, England, for his last visit to his native country on 24 May 1904, Henry James shared-on a certain level-a common attitude toward American society with other British author-travelers. Similar to Charles Dickens and Fanny Trollope, he romanticized the vitality of the American people, a vitality directed toward the creation of “a possible new society,” while he frankly and frequently expressed intolerance toward the “promiscuity” of the American public. The American Scene, the compilation of his travelogues based on his journey to America from 1904 to 1905, was published in 1907.1 This book, probably the most significant product of James’s dual-national authorship, quite delicately suggests his approval of the inevitable prosperity of the world’s leading mass society. The author supports the validity of his travelogue by including the trace of elements that constitute his own memory of America barely surviving behind its mainstream vulgarity. James, the expatriate and possessor of an English mindset, needed to make his America intelligible, while contemporary Americans were not quite ready to share the same analytical view. His tone when narrating this contemporary America was thus inevitably critical, and as such sometimes has impeded the understanding of his work in the United States. It was, nevertheless, exactly his transnational sensibility that allowed him to penetrate both the difficulties and the possibilities of the early twentieth-century United States.