A colloquium in honour of the
Centenary Year of Henry James’s Death
Monday 17 October 2016
Lamb House, Rye, England
Co-sponsored by The National Trust and
the Centre for Modernist Studies, University of Sussex
Featured Speakers included Professor Adrian Poole (University of Cambridge) and
Tessa Hadley, reading from a new short story inspired by James’s Notebooks
A Review of Late and Later James/James at Lamb House
By Katherine Kruger (University of Sussex) and Leah Edens (University of Sussex)
Held at Lamb House in the idyllic village of Rye, where James moved in 1897 and lived until his death in 1916, the Late and Later James colloquium was an intimate gathering of James scholars which marked the centenary of the author’s death. The location of the colloquium generated a sense of proximity to James, described by some, in accordance with William James’s work on the subject, as a sort of ‘religious experience’. As a result of the colloquium’s compelling location, speakers grappled with negotiating the significance of the author’s biography in relation to his late style.
Denis Flannery’s paper entitled ‘Colour and Late Style’ addressed this question of the relationship between biography and late style by bringing James’s story ‘The Bench of Desolation’ (1910) into conversation with Derek Jarman’s Chroma: A Book of Colour (1994), which Jarman wrote in 1993 while suffering from blindness and facing his imminent death. At first sight an unlikely coupling, Flannery adeptly brought these late works together through analysing the ways in which both texts foreground bright primary colours in order to explore the relationship between colour and blankness. Flannery discussed the preoccupation, which both texts share, with the way that ‘flushes’ of colour become magnified in intensity against the blankness of loss and grieving. Proposing that colour has a less functional role in James’s late works than in his earlier works, Flannery’s paper examined James’s construction of a network of intensities and shades of reds and blues which shift in texture and tone like the blue of Jarman’s final 1993 film, Blue. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s seminal book Touching Feeling also fleetingly identifies a network of vivid hues throughout James’s fiction, relating his contagious red blushes to the affect shame. Influenced by this work, Flannery suggested that in James’s late works colour no longer alludes to latent meanings or symbolises motive and mood; instead, colour, still just as evocatively positioned, appears as a pocket of intensity, as a fantasy in and of itself – a manifestation of a desire for sensuous experience.
With the morning and early afternoon of scholarly papers behind us, convincingly exploring everything from benches to the auditory imagination to the effect of Henry’s brother William’s death, attendees were treated to a glimpse of James’s continuing creative legacy. After years of highly-regarded scholarly work on Henry James, Philip Horne of UCL has taken on a compendium project based on dozens of story ideas left by James in various states of development, but never turned into fictions. This collection will consist of short stories from various contemporary writers who have taken on the task of basing their creative writing on the bits of brainstorming James had lodged in his notebooks for future use. Well-established as a novelist, Tessa Hadley, professor of creative writing at Bath Spa, rose to the challenge and read a short story of her own based on an outline left by James at its most embryonic stage. While contemporary, her piece explored James-like character development and conveyed a universality of human experience and emotion. Hadley combined Jamesian undertones with her own sense of voice, leaving the reader – or listener – to negotiate a literary space which was somehow both highly-alert to contemporary conditions while authenticating James’s profound effect on the literary landscape. The act of listening to Hadley, also a James scholar, read her own contemporary work, based on a concept from James himself in his house where he composed so many of his texts offered a connection to both an author and a conference subject beyond the conventional scope of an academic assembly. The compelling experience of listening to Hadley’s work was a thought-provoking way to connect James to the act of writing and to remind us of the origins of our own work.
Late and Later James at Lamb House Schedule
Claire Reed – tour of house/James’s books and objects
“Speed dating Henry James”: A Wrap-up discussion on What makes Late James, Late James?