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Writing Life: Early Twentieth-Century Autobiographies of the Artist-Hero$
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Mhairi Pooler

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781781381977

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781781381977.001.0001

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The Art of Life

The Art of Life

Henry James’s A Small Boy and Others and Notes of a Son and Brother

(p.77) Chapter 3 The Art of Life
Writing Life: Early Twentieth-Century Autobiographies of the Artist-Hero

Mhairi Pooler

Liverpool University Press

In A Small Boy and Others and Notes of a Son and Brother Henry James depicts an apprenticeship in the conversion of impressions into art. By closely paralleling the model of the German Romantic Künstlerroman, James shows that the complex art of life is also a reflection of his broader artistic programme. The discussion focusses on James’s concept of the ‘fostered imagination’ – the way in which his surroundings, experience and key relationships (e.g. with the painter John LaFarge) shaped his creative development. This chapter concludes that the Bildungsreise or apprenticeship journey at the heart of James’s autobiographical volumes bears witness to and enacts the conversion of a small boy’s quiet observations into the aesthetic manifesto of the mature master. By subtly destabilising the genre with his slight deviations from the traditional model, James casts himself as an artist-hero aware of the constructed nature of personal and public identity, and he skews the focus of his narrative away from self-confession towards art. The Künstlerroman provides James with the means of reframing the increasingly problematic autobiographical premise of a knowable self, allowing him to pursue his quest clothed in the armour of poetic relations.

Keywords:   Henry James, Künstlerroman, Fostered imagination, John La Farge, Artistic identity

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