Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Turn of the Page: Henry James in the 1890s

On the 27th March, Dr. Hazel Hutchison (University of Aberdeen) presented the penultimate contribution to the Centre for American Studies’ 2013-2014 lecture series, entitled The Turn of the Page: Henry James in the 1890s.  In her examination of Henry James’ relationship with the precarious publishing market of the 1890s, Dr. Hutchison demonstrated the changing relations between the reader and the writer, the relationship between James and his publisher William Heinemann, and James’ struggles to amalgamate both commercial and refined tastes within his literature of this period.

She began by contextualising James’ work in the 1890s against the Elementary Education Act of 1870, where the first state-educated class of Victorians brought with them a mass market of readers.  Dr. Hutchison made the point that in the burgeoning literary market of the 1890s, the commercial power of the novel was beginning to fade compared to the critical success of short stories.  At the same time English Literature was becoming increasingly recognised as an academic discipline.  Both of these developments had ramifications for the major writers of the late-Victorian period, and Dr. Hutchison’s analysis of James explores his struggles to accommodate both popular and intellectual markets within his work.  His relationship with William Heinemann of Heinemann provided a significant period of surcease within the turbulence of the publishing market at the time, with Dr. Hutchison commenting that it was arguably the most stable professional relationship James had in the 1890s.  It was a period that additionally stood as the most productive period of James’ career.  With reference to a number of letters between James and Heinemann which Dr. Hutchison acquired within the Random House Archives, she argued that this writing period was heavily marked by commercial pressures.  She made the point that James’ recognized that his writings in this period were primarily for financial and not artistic gain.  His continued attempts to produce theatrical works were in part due to the vast financial opportunities the theatre held compared to the more saturated literary markets of the period.  As Dr. Hutchison noted, Heinemann’s publication of Hall Caine’s The Bondsman (1890), which found critical acclaim within theatre adaptations, would have spurred James on even more.  Her analysis of James’ letters demonstrated his growing interest in understanding the publishing and literary markets of the time.  This was reinforced in James’ employment of a literary agent, making him one of the first writers to do so.  His wish to tap into the popular and high-art markets of the time became exemplified in his publication of The Turn of the Screw.

James’ The Turn of the Screw first appeared in England in weekly editions of Heinemann’s Collier’s Weekly in 1898, and quickly become acclaimed by both the public and academics alike.  In James’ hotly-disputed horror story of a governess and her protection of the two children in her care, its critical acclaim exemplified his successful moulding of high-art and literary aesthetics with the more accessible, commercial demands of the popular literary market.  In a candid acknowledgement found in a letter from James to Heinemann, Dr. Hutchison’s argument was reinforced by his acknowledgement that the text was calculated to please popular interests whilst ensuring a generous amount of money in the process.  However, Dr. Hutchison argued that James’ publication was certainly not one that adhered completely to popular tastes.  She made the point that in fact it was James’ intention to inject a degree of high-art literary aesthetic into The Turn of the Screw, whilst courting popular tastes by publishing it within a magazine that could reach a wide spectrum of readers and ensuring that it possessed the accessibility and inexpensiveness of popular Victorian periodicals.  As the author remarked shortly after the text’s release, it was designed to catch those not easily caught, a remark that causes us to revise our understandings of the text’s inclusion within both popular and artistic markets and tastes.  James’ success with The Turn of the Screw was as Dr. Hutchison argued his mastering of the entertaining and the artful.  

The demand for shorter, more accessible fiction led publishers like Heinemann to insist to clients such as Hall Caines and his text The Bondsman (1890) that it be published in one volume rather than several.  Very soon after this the one-volume novel became the norm, which Dr. Hutchison argued exemplified the fragility of the publishing market at the time in adapting to the tastes of the popular market.  In addition, it illustrated the tensions between publishers and writers, in this case the tension between James and Heinemann.  Their relationship came under pressure when James employed James B. Pinker as his literary agent, a publishing middle-man that Heinemann absolutely despised and declined to have anything to do with.  In a particularly humorous segment of Dr. Hutchison’s lecture, she illustrated the difficulties of this tense relationship, with the example that after James corresponded with Pinker, and he in turn subsequently wrote to Heinemann, Heinemann refused to respond back, and would send his correspondence directly to James.  Although Heinemann resented the literary agent as a greedy and inessential intermediary between the author and the publisher, Dr. Hutchison reminded the audience that Heinemann was certainly not above playing games with his clients.  Having given James a mere £50 for The Turn of the Screw, she reminded us that Pinker’s own offers were significantly greater than Heinemann’s, a disparity that likely incensed the publisher furthermore.  Although James would later end Pinker’s services due to the infighting between himself and Heinemann, he subsequently would become disillusioned with the publishing company.  After numerous protests that Heinemann was not promoting his books as well as he could, James became all too aware of the contrast between his popularity back in the United States and in Britain.  

In Dr. Hutchison’s final remarks, she argued that James’ disillusionment with the British publishing market led him to concede that perhaps too much emphasis was put on the marketing of the contemporary text.  He extended Heinemann’s own criticism of the literary agent as a “middle man” to that of publishers as well, arguing that rather than having swathes of publishers, literary agents and other bodies of the market deliberate over what should be published, it is the public who should decide what is worth reading.  Dr. Hutchison’s lecture proved to be an engaging and illuminating discussion of Henry James’ 1890s literature, and one that skilfully demonstrated the numerous commercial, artistic and public pressures that faced authors at the time within a turbulent publishing market.

-          James Nixon
PGR at the University of Glasgow

The Centre for American Studies 2013-14 seminar series at the University of Glasgow concludes with the Fourteenth Annual Gordon Lecture in American Studies on Wednesday 7th May.  In the final contribution to a fantastic seminar series, Professor David Blight of Yale University and Professor Richard Blackett of Vanderbilt University will participate in a forum on the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War on Wednesday 7th May.  We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Killer’s Home: The Returning First World War Veteran in Modernist Literature

On the 13th March Dr. William Blazek (Liverpool Hope University) presented the eleventh contribution to the Centre for American Studies’ 2013-14 seminar series, entitled, Killer’s Home: The Returning First World War Veteran in Modernist Literature.  In a deeply engaging, thorough and times rather moving analysis of the veteran experience in World War One, Blazek diverted from typical scholarship that focused primarily on the veteran for one that examined the effects their return had on their respective communities.

Blazek opened his discussion by noting that comedy has strongly skewed our perceptions of World War One, creating what he argued was a Blackadder-esque distortion that has omitted the darker qualities of the veteran experience.  He noted that the blurring of legal and illegal frameworks once veterans returned home caused one of the first initial contrasts between war and peacetime life, where in the example of murder, veterans found themselves lifted out of the legal status of killing.  It is this example, amongst many others that Blazek illustrated how the returning soldier posed a threat to the construction of the ideal of home or family life. 

This irreconcilability between war-time behaviour and peacetime norms was further demonstrated in his analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night (1934), and the two veteran characters of Abe North and Tommy Barban.  Both North and Barban find it difficult to adjust to life after returning home from the war, but utilise different strategies to deal with it.  North finds himself susceptible to the climate of post-war debauchery, and exhibits a sort of comic surrealism, what Blazek described as a Marx Brothers-like anarchic dynamism in his behaviour.  These comical qualities are however evidence of North’s status as a veteran, qualities Blazek argued were borne out of the chaos of the war and the lack of meaning that confronted the veterans of the war on their return home.  North’s nonsensical qualities, rather than being trivial, emerge from a hard cynicism that many veterans felt in realizing that they were never going to be able to adjust to the stability of peace-time life.  Barban in sharp contrast to North utilises his experiences of the war to control his behaviour.  In addition to this, he seizes the opportunities of post-war Europe, whilst North ignores it.  Barban’s showmanship and incessant machismo is in itself its own defence mechanism against the dissonance he finds in peace-time Europe, where Blazek’s description of Barban as the professional soldier is confronted by a world he finds difficult to adjust to.  Although both adopt different strategies to cope within post-war Europe, they both resign to the irreconcilability of peace-time life as men who have been permanently tainted by the horrors of warfare, what Blazek noted as their recognition of never being able to find new or unpolluted identities amidst the ashes of the war. 

In another example from Ernest Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home (1925), Blazek discussed the main character Harold Krebs’ own alienation from his home town after returning from the war.  Kreb’s inability to communicate his experiences of the war in his home-town, to voice the dark, sinister actualities of battle, leaves him retreating into an eternal silence.  Dr Blazek provided a further example in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) and the character of Septimus Warren Smith, who suffers shell-shock and hallucinations of his deceased friend Evans.  In his analysis of Septimus’ incapacity for emotional intelligence, Woolf’s description of Septimus’ perception of viewing beauty through a pane of glass, Blazek noted that the returning veteran often stood as a reminder of the fragility of life in their local communities, and perhaps more starkly, as a reminder of a form of death that cannot be buried.  He continued with an example from Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier (1918).  Following the shell-shocked character of Captain Chris Baldry as he returns home from the war, Blazek noted the stark irony in Baldry’s treatment of his home and local community as a form of certain death compared to the horrors of war.  This text, as Blazek noted, depicted the home and the local community as something not just alien to the returning veteran, but sometimes entirely threatening compared to the abnormal normalcy of warfare.  This was later reinforced in his examination of the classic returning veteran narrative in Homer’s Odyssey.  Blazek commented that Odysseus’s war-like manner shaped by combat is displayed in his dissonance upon returning home, which leads him to seek out additional adventures to quench his warrior-like thirst.  Additionally, and one that ties into his analysis of West’s The Return of the Soldier, Odysseus’ slaying of the suitors in the text’s conclusion once again signifies that even the home for the returning veteran is far from safe.

In what was one of the most well-received segments of his paper, Blazek concluded by discussing his own experiences of working alongside students and professors at university, a large number of whom were veterans of the Vietnam War.  He noted that the inconspicuous signals between veterans, often no more than a nod, were enough to identify themselves amongst civilians.  This fraternal marking of each other in peace-time America and within their new identities as professors or students was, Blazek noted, a reminder of the inimitable relations many veterans cultivated after the war towards each other.  It was also one that many, including Blazek, recognised and respected in those who had seen and returned from the horrors of warfare.  Dr. Blazek presented an enlightening analysis of World War One literature and the treatment of the returning veteran.  With reinforcement from post-war writers such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Woolf, and peppered with interesting and touching personal accounts of his own family’s involvement in the Great War, Dr. Blazek provided an excellent contribution to the Centre for American Studies’ 2013-2014 seminar series.

- By James Nixon
PGR at the University of Glasgow
The Centre for American Studies 2013-14 seminar series at the University of Glasgow returns with Dr. Hazel Hutchison: “The Turn of the Page: Henry James in the 1890s” on Thursday 27th March.  This will be hosted in Room 202, 4 University Gardens at 5.15pm.  All very welcome!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Creating the Consuming Interest: how tariff debates shaped the American consumer, 1828-1865

On March 12th, and in the tenth contribution to the University of Glasgow’s Centre for American Studies’ 2013-2014 seminar series, Dr. Joanna Cohen of the Queen Mary University of London presented a fantastic lecture on the early American consumer and tariff debates in antebellum America.  In a compelling discussion of the emergence of dialogues on American consumerism and its moulding with questions of civic and national duty, the contested narratives that rose between the protectionist arguments of pro-tariff bodies and free-trade bodies, and the effect the Civil War had on these discourse, Dr. Cohen provided an excellent contribution to the Centre’s seminar series.

Dr. Cohen began her paper with a discussion of the rise of the consumer interest in the United States.  Prior to the antebellum United States, the term “consumer interest” was virtually one that was absent from American discussion.  Although religious and political contexts had tinged discussions of American consumption prior to the antebellum period- with prominent Christian teachings denouncing ideas of consumption, and the consumption of British goods was seen as an act of betrayal during the Revolutionary War - it was largely absent from popular discussion.  However, over the course of the 19th century ideas of a consumer interest began to emerge against the rise of federal tariffs, which raised questions over the role of the citizen and their civic duty in reinforcing economic policies.  With reference to American economist Daniel Raymond (1786–1849), Dr. Cohen framed Raymond’s own dilemma as one who both promoted unrestricted consumption versus the federal government’s need for tariffs.  Within the framework of his writings, Raymond’s focus on consumption as a means to create national wealth, rather than within discussions of agricultural control, was very unorthodox at the time.  Additionally, within a context where protectionists spoke down to consumers by lecturing that they should obey tariffs rather than question them, Raymond’s argument that a citizen’s right to consumer consumption trumped the political and economic obligations of the citizen was additionally outside of the conventions of economic debate at the time. 

Dr. Cohen continued with a discussion of southern reactions to the 1828 tariff and its unfair imposition on the southern economy.  Vast amounts of letters from southern farmers flooded the halls of Congress in protest of the tariff, and it played a significant part in the development of South Carolina’s Nullification Crisis in 1832.   However, despite southern protests, northern protectionists argued that those who criticised federal tariffs were again just not able to see the benefits of protectionism.  Protectionist arguments largely stayed the same over the next decades, with an emphasis on the higher-quality of protected goods compared to those that came from overseas.  However, they were largely ignored for a consumer market that demanded foreign goods over domestic products.  In a funny remark Dr. Cohen made during this segment of the paper, she noted that a number of American goods were retitled under French or Italian names due to the popular demand for European goods in the United States.  The rise of a consumer market more interested in consuming foreign goods than in protecting domestic goods was as Dr. Cohen noted one of the ironies of the protectionist ideologies of the time, where the promotion of the tariff helped promote a free-trade ideology.  This contesting between protectionist and free-trade ideologies initiated the use of consumer rights in popular discussion, and one that that led eventually to the promotion of consumer rights as one that was constitutionally-honed, what Dr. Cohen argued became marked as the right to consume freely.  In one example further given, she noted a letter from a consumer in the 1840s that borrowed from the constitution’s preamble when it began with “We the consumer”.  Rather than simply an economic and political dictate from the federal government, the economic obligations of the American citizen became more open to interpretation, and by the mid-1840s those interpretations had turned favourably for free-trade policies.  Although into the 1850s protectionists reiterated the importance of protecting a domestic market, economists such as Horace Greeley deplored their arguments and the imposition of economic policies such as federal tariffs as a form of economic slavery. 

Dr. Cohen directed her final section of her paper to the Morill tariff that was introduced at the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861.  The tariff’s controversial reception, both domestically and abroad, also reintroduced the protectionist position of the citizen’s economic obligations that were echoed in earlier decades.  However, this position was met with an aggressive response from the well-grounded free-trade atmosphere of the early 1860s, with House Republicans adapting the civil obligations of the protectionists into one that argued that the consumption of free-trade goods, rather than domestic goods, was the civic duty of American citizens.  It was a sentiment well-received in the north, and shortly after American retailers began to use the opportunity to advertise their goods, fusing the Republican-led ideology of supporting the Union with a free-trade doctrine.  With shop-owners reinforcing a link between free-trade consumption and the war effort, what Dr. Cohen noted was done through the proliferation of local consumer allegiances with supporting the government and questions of civic virtue, it quickly became the standard correlation of contemporary political and consumer ideologies.  Dr Cohen’s displaying of shop posters reinforced this flurry of free-trade, pro-Union advertisements.  As she additionally noted, one very distinct meeting of political and consumerist ideologies could be found in an example of one shop being transformed into a recruitment centre for the Union army.

Dr. Cohen finished her paper by reminding her audience that though free-trade policies did dominate in the latter period of her paper’s focus, the rise of free-trade consumerism from there on does not fit into a simple narrative, and in many cases would re-collide with protectionist ideals.  However, the emphasis Dr. Cohen wished to present in her paper was the fusing of civic duties to consumption that both protectionists and free-traders hoped to reinforce, what she aptly titled the democratisation of goods.  In an engaging, lucid discussion of early consumption in the antebellum United States, Dr. Cohen made a fantastic contribution to the Centre for American Studies’ 2013-14 seminar series.

In the question and answer session after Dr. Cohen’s paper she expanded her thoughts on the class-based qualities of early American consumerism.  She noted that with the 1850s being the age of the Confidence Man in America, many lower-middle or middle-class Americans began to utilise consumer goods as a way of appearing above their station.  This in turn created a tension between class elites that argued that consumerism, which was largely recognised as not class-based, should be protected all the same from such charlatanism.  In this particular example Dr. Cohen provided an excellent additional comment to an already excellent paper, presenting an early example of the malleability of consumer class in America before more prominent examples such as in the 1920s.

- By James Nixon
PGR at the University of Glasgow

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Trouble or Transcendence? Health, Illness and American Culture in the 1970s

On Thursday 27th February the Centre for American Studies was pleased to welcome Professor Martin Halliwell (University of Leicester) to the department's 2013-2014 seminar series.  In his excellent seminar paper, Trouble or Transcendence? Health, Illness and American Culture in the 1970s, he discussed the rise of psychiatric treatment’s move from state regulation to deinstitutionalised facilities in the 1970s, and the repercussions this had for cultural treatments of mental illness in the era.  

Professor Halliwell began his introduction by discussing the shift of large-state medical facilities to private ones in the post-revolutionary 1970s, which challenged the homogeneity of medical thought at the time.  This expansion of the medical discourse beyond the conventional constraints of the state brought a number of positive qualities with it, especially for minorities in the United States and their access to medical treatment.  Furthermore, this multiplicity of medical dialogues was echoed in the culture of the period.  In the previous decade the criticism of institutionalisation found in works such as Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) and Allen Ginsberg’s poem Kaddish (1961) continued into the literature of the post-revolutionary 1970s.  However, the latter period developed its own critiques of institutionalised medicine into one that additionally praised certain forms of mental illness.  Rather than seeing mental illness necessarily as an impediment, some contemporary writers viewed it as bestowing heightened, superhuman qualities to the individual.  Professor Halliwell exemplified this with his analysis of Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1977).  The main character Deborah, a sixteen-year old girl suffering from schizophrenia, finds surcease from the cruelties of the world by retreating into the imaginary world of her mind, a world expressed by Deborah as simply “Yr”.  The vibrant but cruel inner world found in depictions of the mentally afflicted, Halliwell noted, became a pervasive one within this period, a view that he argued indicated a romantic strain in cultural examinations of mental illness.  His subsequent discussion of the paintings of schizophrenic Martin Ramirez reinforced this narrative, with his paintings depicting the freedom found in mental illness. (both of Ramirez’ paintings displayed in Professor Halliwell’s paper can be found here and here)  The use of the word “extraordinary” in particular by writers such as Greenberg became more and more prevalent, and quickly became tied to this specific medical narrative reinforcing the view of mental illness as an innately positive and redemptive quality.

At this point Professor Halliwell noted the resonance of 1960s social messages within this medical discourse.  With a strong emphasis on freedom, expression and psychological exploration within the social dialogues of the 1960s, he argued that the infusion of these same emphases within medical thought was an attempt to reunite the social ideologies of the counterculture within the post-revolutionary 1970s.  However, the social, political and economic contexts of the 1970s did not readily absorb these ideologies, resulting in the high ideals of the 1960s clashing with the hard realities of the 1970s.  This fusing of social and medical messages of the 1960s and 1970s was exemplified in his examination of Martin Scorcese’s production Taxi Driver (1976) and Percy Walker’s text Love in the Ruins (1974).  Professor Halliwell argued that the main characters of both productions, Scorcese’s Travis Bickle and Walker’s Dr. Tom More, are idealists with a distorted vision.  Whilst both characters recognise something is wrong, whether it’s Bickle’s disenchantment with political life in Taxi-Driver or More’s troubles with the spiritual emptiness of American life in Love in the Ruins, they are unable to express these concerns coherently. Halliwell noted became a hallmark of 1970s medical culture, where many Americans found themselves fraught with undiagnosed anxieties.  Bickle and More are, as Professor Halliwell noted, victims of an age of fracture, caught in a period of social malaise with no hope for a suitable diagnosis.

Professor Halliwell succeeded this analysis of social and medical incoherencies with a review of literary works that depicted the strong narcissistic tendency of 1970s American culture.  His reference to Tom Wolfe’s description of the period as the Third Great Awakening reinforced the strange moulding of religion and therapy inherent in 1970s medicine.  However, in a period dominated by feverish self-analysis and self-enlightenment, there were criticisms of the narcissistic tendencies this religious and therapeutic concoction created in American culture, for example Tom Wolfe’s essay The Me Decade (1977) and Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979).  As Professor Halliwell afterwards commented, this sense of spiritual dissatisfaction was even criticised by President Jimmy Carter.  In what came to be known as his “malaise” speech presented on July 15th 1979, Carter noted the crisis of confidence evident in American life, and criticised the self-indulgence and consumption of the age.  Don DeLillo’s Americana (1971) was subsequently discussed and the strong narcissistic qualities of the protagonist David Bell, a character he noted shares a strong literary lineage with Chuck Paluhniuk’s character Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1996).  Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was given as a further example.  Halliwell argued that the fictional characters of DeLillo and Pirsig’s texts are not referenced as examples of characters who necessarily find spiritual salvation, but rather they depict the frenetic but typically fruitless self-analysis of the 1970s.  In a comment he made earlier in his paper, he noted that spiritual inwardness was treated as abhorrent in an age where everything was laid out by individuals but never effectively analysed, once again demonstrating the inherent incoherencies of the decade between social, cultural, political and medical realms.  

Professor Halliwell concluded with an analysis of multiple-personality disorder diagnoses in the 1970s, or what writers in the period had previously referred to as psychic splitting.  He introduced the dilemma of how an age of fracture is affected when those fractures multiply.  Citing Flora Rheta Schreiber’s Sybil (1973), an account of the first ever case of multiple personality disorder ever psychoanalysed, he noted how this account raises the question of selective recall in the patient, and how if the patient is in full control of the account, and there is a chance of them embellishing details, this has profound ramifications for literary narratives dealing with mental illness.  This dilemma as Professor Halliwell commented presents the battle between fantasy and reality in the culture of the 1970s, and one that can be seen in his previously cited literary and cinematic examples.  

In the question and answer session after Professor Halliwell’s presentation, he raised an interesting discussion of how the bicentennial celebrations of American independence in 1976 were celebrated amidst the medical and social turbulence of the period.  He noted that there was an increased interest in national health in the celebrations, and one that was inherently linked to the national spirit, an emphasis that reflected the increasing dominance of medicine within American culture. However, like much of Professor Halliwell’s presentation, this emphasis on the strong national health of the United States was in sharp contrast to the experience of Vietnam veterans, who argued that there wasn’t enough support for them once they returned home.  This national disassociation between political rhetoric and the actualities of 1970s American life reinforced the various contrasts in Professor Halliwell’s intriguing, engaging and compelling discussion of 1970s culture and its representations of health and mental illness.

By James Nixon
PGR at the University of Glasgow

The Centre for American Studies 2013-2014 seminar series will continue with Dr. Joanna Cohen (Queen Mary University): Creating the Consuming Interest: how tariff debates shaped the American consumer, 1828-1865.  This will be held on Wednesday 12th March in Room 208, 2 University Gardens at 5.15pm.  All very welcome!