Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
My thesis examines young people portrayed in Henry James' selected novels and tales, exploring the theme of the maturing process, with special emphasis on the influence of the adult world on the psychological development of the young. To this end, I focus on the following works: Daisy Miller, The Portrait of a Lady, “A London Life,” “The Pupil,” What Maisie Knew, “The Tum of the Screw” and The Awkward Age. James, through the experience of his young characters, explores not only the depths of moral corruption in society, but also the necessary steps to be taken in order to promote a child's moral development. Most of the young characters I observe are surrounded by irresponsible, negligent and superficial parents or relatives. Although they are often provided with tutors or mentors, in most of the cases of failure they do not receive sufficient support from them. What is worse, the young characters are betrayed by the people whom they trust. Only children who begin with a certain psychological make-up, and also find emotional support and responsible guidance from some adult(s), are able to survive or mature successfully.
My study suggests that the key to the Jamesian concept of healthy maturation is the necessity of balance between emotional and mental growth. The young people in the selected works, who are governed by their emotions, fail to reach complete maturation. On the other hand, those who are capable of maintaining a balance between heart and mind, overcome the obstacles presented by adults.
In addition, gender plays a decisive role in the way James deals with his characters. He believes that females are endowed with superior sensibility; thus his female characters often succeed while the males fail.
James' hypotheses on child-rearing, maturation and cognitive faculty are substantially vindicated by contemporary and modern psychology. In this study I support my reading by the relevant psychological theories of Henry James' brother, William James, as well as by those of James Sully and Jean Piaget. Their pertinent concepts shed light on Henry James' own ideology.
James was preoccupied with the eternal question of the role of "nature" and "nurture" in child-rearing, which is closely connected to the exploration of the maturing process. He sought to reconcile the "natural" and "artificial" approaches to child-raising and created the synthesis of the two by calling into existence his “jeune fille.” However, to be able to do so, James had to investigate all the consequences of the influence of a loveless, egoistical, hypocritical society. By the end of his "journey," James was no longer able to provide even his favorite characters with ideals; they must be satisfied with moral victory at the price of happiness. In my study, I try to retrace James' steps in his explorations.
Magyar, Judit, "Growing Old and Growing Wise? Parenting and Maturation in Henry James' Selected Tales and Novels" (1997). Masters Theses. 1897.