Henry James: Shakespeare and Horror

Henry James, Shakespeare and Horror

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An afternoon of presentations by leading scholars reflecting on different aspects of Henry James and memory

14.00-15.30  Professor Sarah Churchwell on ‘Mastering The Turn of the Screw’

16.00-17.30  Professor Adrian Poole on 'The Romance of Certain Old Texts: James and Shakespeare.'

Sarah Churchwell discusses the complexities of reading one of Henry James’ most famous and enigmatic stories, and in particular the centrality of unreliable memory to the story.

Sarah Churchwell is Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities and Professorial Fellow in American Literature at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is the author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby, and The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, and her literary journalism has appeared in the Guardian, New Statesman, TLS, New York Times Book Review, and the Spectator, among others. She comments regularly on arts, culture, and politics for UK television and radio, has judged many literary prizes, including the Bailey’s (Orange) Prize for Fiction and the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. She was the recipient of the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence award for 2015, during which time she undertook research on Henry James and the composition of The Turn of the Screw.

Professor Adrian Poole on 'The Romance of Certain Old Texts: James and Shakespeare.'

‘But who shall count the sources at which an intense young fancy … capriciously, absurdly drinks?’ asks Henry James. Shakespeare was one such source for him. Adrian Poole discusses an early tale, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, in which two sisters bear the capriciously inappropriate names of young Shakespearean heroines. Biographical critics have seen in their rivalry a reflection of the author’s relations with his brother William. Poole will focus instead on the clothes and the fears and desires to which they give rise. The sisters’ antagonism provides the model for a debate that runs through James’s thinking about property, legacy and memory: on the one hand the dream of total control, on the other of wholesale dispersal.

If the violence with which this early tale ends is unusual for James, the threat of it is never absent, and this is a key to the way Shakespeare works in his imagination, that he is often associated with injury, especially in Othello and Hamlet. Poole will discuss some of the ways these two plays infiltrate James’s writing, at various levels of audibility. He asks why James admired two Shakespearean performers above all: Fanny Kemble and Tommaso Salvini. Finally Poole compares the legacies that Shakespeare and James himself appeared to leave, on the latter’s death, and the tercentenary of the former’s, in 1916.

Adrian Poole has written extensively on Henry James, and on Shakespeare. He is one of the General Editors of the Complete Fiction of Henry James (Cambridge University Press). He is a Professor of English and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Refreshments will be provided.

Sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library


Name: Henry James: Shakespeare and Horror
Where: Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
Price: Full Price: £10.00
Senior 60+: £8.00
Student: £7.00
Registered Unemployed: £7.00
Under 18: £7.00
Friend of the BL: £7.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546