115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Cultivated Space: Engaging Nature in the Gardens of The Ambassadors

David Wolf, Portland State University

For Henry James the representation of consciousness reflects an ecological aesthetics. My analysis of The Ambassadors charts Strether’s evolution through four intratextual garden scenes, showing them to link back even as they look forward to the Lambinet landscape analepsis, the germ and the consummation of Strether’s  consciousness narrative.

Proposal: 

David Wolf

The Cultivated Space: Engaging Nature in the Gardens of The Ambassadors

This paper argues that for Henry James the representation of consciousness is grounded in an ecological aesthetics. Complicating first wave ecocriticism’s method of naïve mimesis while qualifying post-structuralism’s privileging of textuality, it shows nature in James to be real and potent, if nonetheless bound up and collaborating with culture. James situates nature in European gardens, environments that model the intricacy and scope of Jamesian social and epistemological relations. Attention to these gardens shows that for James the natural self is both cultural and biological, represented in the parallel processes of authorial composition and literary consciousness. During his years at Lamb House, years of a greater emotional liberality, James moves beyond picturesque appreciation to render nature as a dynamic, strife-torn process of interaction, change, and growth. Focusing on The Ambassadors (1903), this analysis charts Strether’s evolution through the course of four intratextual garden scenes, showing how they link back even as they look forward to the Lambinet landscape analepsis, read as the germ and the consummation of Strether’s transformative consciousness narrative.

Key terms: Henry James, gardens, consciousness, ecological aesthetics