The American Scene


The American Scene

Infobox Book |
name = The American Scene


image_caption = Cover of 1968 Indiana University Press edition of "The American Scene"
author = Henry James
country = United Kingdom, United States
language = English
genre = Travel writing
publisher = Chapman and Hall, London
Harper & Brothers, Boston
release_date = Chapman: 30-Jan-1907
Harper: 7-Feb-1907
media_type = Print
pages = Chapman: 465
Harper: 443

"The American Scene" is a book of travel writing by Henry James about his trip through the United States in 1904-1905. Ten of the fourteen chapters of the book were published in the "North American Review", "Harper's" and "The Fortnightly Review" in 1905 and 1906. The first book publication was in 1907, and there were significant differences between the American and the English versions of the book.

Without question the most controversial and critically discussed of James' travel books, "The American Scene" sharply attacked what James saw as the rampant materialism and frayed social structure of turn-of-the-century America. The book has generated controversy for its treatment of various ethnic groups and political issues. The book still has relevance to such current topics as immigration policy, environmental protection, economic growth, and racial tensions.

Summary and themes

James spent nearly a year on his American tour from August, 1904 to July, 1905. He travelled the entire country and even made decent money from public lectures, usually to ladies' organizations that he made "pay me through the nose." "The American Scene" covers his trips up and down the Eastern seaboard, concentrating on New York City and New England. A second volume, which was to recount his experiences in the Midwest and West, never got written.

The book as it stands has been praised and damned, respected and dismissed. The extreme reactions may result from the contradictions inherent in the book itself. To take perhaps the most notorious example, James indulged in racist bashing of black people as incapable of alertness and attention, then praised the "most accomplished" W.E.B DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk" as "the only Southern book of any distinction for many a year."

Similarly, James was full of misgivings about unrestricted immigration and its effect on America's already thinly stretched social fabric. (Of course, many Americans share similar doubts about immigration to this day.) But he conceded that the strong assimilative forces of American life would work on the children of the immigrants, "the younger generation who will fully profit, rise to the occasion, and enter into the privilege" of full citizenship.

James also constantly criticized the materialism and greed he saw all around him in American business. But he again admitted that the result was a huge increase in material well-being for the average person: "this immense, vivid "general" lift of poverty and general appreciation of the living unit's paying property in himself." It was in this widespread prosperity "that the picture seems most to clear and the way to jubilation most to open."

Yet it must be admitted that James' account was finally a grim one. In the last section of the book he denounced America's spoliation of "the great lonely land," its frantic economic development, and its festering social tensions. The consequence was a "devil's dance" which made the future look uncertain and threatening. It's no wonder that this final section was omitted from the American edition of the book, much to James' indignation.

Table of contents

Critical evaluation

As might be expected, critics have are divided on this book, possibly due to difference in political opinions.Who|date=January 2008 Those who agree with James' critique of the United States find much to praise, stating the book includes witty and insightful descriptions.Who|date=January 2008 Others may criticize James, some by calling him snobbish and unfair due to his distaste for some aspects of American life.Who|date=January 2008

References

*"Thinking in Henry James" by Sharon Cameron (Chicago: U Chicago P 1989)
*"Henry James Collected Travel Writings - Great Britain and America - English Hours, The American Scene, Other Travels" edited by Richard Howard (New York: Library of America 1993) ISBN 0-940450-76-3
* "A Henry James Encyclopedia" by Robert L. Gale (New York: Greenwood Press 1989) ISBN 0-313-25846-5

External links

* [http://www2.newpaltz.edu/~hathawar/americanscene.html "The American Scene", 1907 London edition]
* [http://www.loa.org/volume.jsp?RequestID=61&section=notes Note on the texts of "The American Scene"] at the Library of America web site


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Seldom Scene — is an American bluegrass band formed in 1971 in Bethesda, Maryland out of the weekly jam sessions in the basement of banjo player Ben Eldridge. These sessions included John Starling on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Auldridge on resophonic guitar… …   Wikipedia

  • The Agony Scene — Infobox musical artist Name = The Agony Scene Img capt = The Agony Scene Img size = Landscape = Background = group or band Alias = Origin = Genre = Metalcore Years active = Label = Solid State Roadrunner Abacus Records Century Media Associated… …   Wikipedia

  • The American Dream (play) — The American Dream is an early, one act play by American playwright Edward Albee. It was first staged 24 January 1961 at the York Playhouse in New York City. The play, a satire on American family life, concerns a married couple and their… …   Wikipedia

  • American Scene —    The “American Scene” was the name given to the artistic movement of the 1920s and especially the 1930s that saw a concentration on American themes and subjects rather than European modernist images. It included regionalist painters John… …   Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era

  • American Scene — Charles Demuth: Aucassiu and Nicolette (1921) Amerikanischer Realismus, auch American Scene genannt, bezeichnet eine in den ersten beiden Jahrzehnten des 20. Jahrhunderts in den USA entstandene Stilrichtung der Malerei des Realismus. Merkmale… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • The American (novel) — For other uses, see The American (disambiguation). The American   Author(s) Henry James …   Wikipedia

  • American scene painting — refers to a naturalist style of painting and other works of art of the 1920s through the 1950s in the United States. American scene painting is also known as Regionalism.After World War I many American artists rejected the modern trends emanating …   Wikipedia

  • The American Idol Experience — Localisation Parc : Disney s Hollywood Studios Zone : Hollywood Boulevard Lieu  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • The American Crowd — is a film cliché which appears mainly, if not exclusively, in Hollywood films, generally of a comic or light dramatic genre.When main characters of a film have some kind of scene to play out in front of a crowd of people, wherever they are, the… …   Wikipedia

  • The American Academy of Arts and Letters — is a 250 member organization whose goal is to foster, assist, and sustain excellence in American literature, music, and art. It is located in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, in New York, on a Beaux Arts campus that is… …   Wikipedia