This thesis explores the roles of widowhood and sympathy in Henry James's short and long fiction. By the time James established himself as a writer of fiction, the culture of sentiment and its formation of sympathetic identification had become central to American and British writers. Critically, however, sympathy in James's fiction has been overlooked because he chose to write about rich expatriates and European nobility. James's pervasive use of widowed characters in his fiction suggests the he too participated in the same aesthetic agenda as William Dean Howells and George Eliot to evoke sympathy in their readers as a means of promoting class unity. In this thesis I show how James's use of widowed characters places him in the same sympathetic tradition as Howells and Eliot not by eliciting sympathy for themselves, but, rather, by awakening a sympathetic response from his readers for his protagonists seeking love. In chapter one I explore why James may have used so many widowed characters in his fiction. I cite the death of his cousin Minny Temple as a defining moment in his literary career and argue that he may have experienced an "emotional widowhood" after her early death. I also discuss the role of widows in his short fiction, which I suggest, is different from the role of widows in his novels. This chapter is biographical, yet provides important background for understanding why, more than any other author, James's fiction is replete with widowed characters. Chapter two explains the culture of sentiment of which James has been excluded. It explores the theories of David Hume and Adam Smith and their influence on the aesthetic principles defining Howells and Eliot's work. In this chapter I contend that James is indeed part of this sentimental tradition despite his renunciation of sentiment in his fiction because he tried to promote sympathy among his readers through his widowed characters. In chapter three I do close readings of The Portrait of a Lady (1881) and The Wings of the Dove (1902) and argue that these two texts best represent James's attempt at sympathetic writing.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Gordon-Smith, George Michael, "Sympathetic Observations: Widowhood, Spectatorship, and Sympathy in the Fiction of Henry James" (2008). Theses and Dissertations. 1463.
Widowhood, Widow, Sympathy, Spectatorship, Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove