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Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture$
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Michele Mendelssohn

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780748623853

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623853.001.0001

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(p.xvi) (p.1) Introduction
Henry James, Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture

Michèle Mendelssohn

Edinburgh University Press

This book tells the story of Henry James's and Oscar Wilde's intricate, decades-long literary relationship and how it shaped transatlantic aesthetic relations. It shows that their relationship allegorises nineteenth-century American and British Aestheticism. It is a parable about two cultures in conflict that stridently externalised their concerns about one another and themselves while quietly internalising each others' values in print, exercising their ideas so that they could strengthen their respective cultures. Aestheticism refers to the literary and artistic movement that flourished in Britain and America between 1870 and 1900 and that advanced art for art's sake in opposition to the utilitarian doctrine of moral or practical usefulness. ‘Aesthetic culture’ indicates a catholic conception of Aestheticism. This book is framed by much larger questions of how Aestheticism was able to span differences as considerable as those between James and Wilde, America and Britain, authenticity and fakery, conventionality and eccentricity, morality and immorality. The ability to maintain these tensions makes transatlantic Aestheticism a bridge over troubled waters in every sense.

Keywords:   Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Aestheticism, America, Britain, literary relationship, Aesthetic culture, morality, immorality, eccentricity

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