By Elizabeth Allen
A whole size research of James' use of the "American lady" heroine in his novels, from Daisy Miller via Isabel Archer to Milly Theale and Maggie Verver.
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Additional info for A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James
The mix was a complex one: Woman in the Nineteenth Century 23 The high hopes of the Revolutionary period, that the United States would set forth an example of democracy and enlightened rule to the rest of the world, were overshadowed by the fact that America's influence, when it became great, was largely based on her wealth and power. The American girl, who had been bred to show the superiority of freedom linked to moral purity, gained renown not as the true woman or Puritan maiden, but as the heiress .
Older women inJ ames's work are often very much 'fixed' socially, and are linguistically and socially adept. Easily recognisable, they function both as social reference points and as interpreters of the social world to the subject of the novel's experience. Maintaining the social structures they inhabit, they encourage marriage and objectification of the hesitant young girl. Much of the time, particularly in the stories,] ames uses women in a conventional way. U In Washington Square ( 188o), in which the lack of European contrast takes the edge off the 'American-ness' of the characters, the conventional expectations of the feminine are exposed as repressive in their inaptness and banality.
The dilemma of democracy had always been to retain both freedom and power; the dilemma of the American girl, to be both bold and innocent, was equally perplexing and equally unsolved. 37 Yet, as I suggested, the specifically American role of girls and women (given their cultural prominence in the United States) needed even more to be balanced by their allegiance to their class, to their being flawed products of the prototype of the True Woman. De Tocqueville could see that the apparent freedom of American girls did not imply a radical change of role in society, merely a shift in responsibility and tactic: Far from hiding the corruptions of the world from her, they prefer that she should see them at once and train herself to shun them.