Henry James is most often thought—quite rightly—as a novelist of manners, typically taking for his subject the clash of sensibilities between his American subjects and their European counterparts. His world—the one in which he moved personally, felt most at home, and which occupied the largest space in his work—was evidently that of the well-born and well-traveled, the cultivated, and (to use a current pejorative) the privileged. It is impossible to imagine a fictional milieu farther removed from today’s American literary concerns. Jamesland is a place where aristocrats and heiresses, expatriate artists and poets, titled continentals and landed gentry meet and mingle in English country houses or Venetian palaces or Swiss mountain resorts.

Yet James was not so limited by the rarefied atmosphere in which he lived to ignore that, just beneath the glittering surface of late-Victorian London, flushed with the...


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