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Henry James, Hotels, and the Invention of Disposable Space

Henry James, Hotels, and the Invention of Disposable Space Robbie Moore In his short story `Guest's Confession' (1872), Henry James took inspiration from The Merchant of Venice, transporting Shakespeare's mercantile Mediterranean to an American resort hotel filled with members of the east coast business elite.1 An embezzled sum of twenty-thousand dollars and the seduction of the embezzler's daughter are messily entangled. Fittingly, James stages this entanglement of love and fraud inside a hotel ­ and in one crucial scene, in a blank and functional hotel sitting-room. Not only does this space hover ambiguously between the domestic and the commercial ­ bringing together two social domains that middle-class Victorian culture sought to hold apart ­ but the room itself seems fraudulent: its surfaces blank, slippery, and anonymous; its identity questionable. What James finds in this hotel sitting-room, and in a similarly odd hotel reading-room in The Reverberator (1888), is a `minor' space whose apparent non-signification, whose resistance to the meaningmaking processes of the realist novel, is itself a form of significance.2 The sitting- and reading-rooms are leisure spaces without leisure; offices without work; drawing-rooms without family. As such, these rooms mark an early appearance in James of a distinctly modern form of architectural space. A precursor to modern http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modernist Cultures Edinburgh University Press

Henry James, Hotels, and the Invention of Disposable Space

Modernist Cultures , Volume 7 (2): 254 – Oct 1, 2012

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
© Edinburgh University Press 2012
Subject
Articles; Film, Media and Cultural Studies
ISSN
2041-1022
eISSN
1753-8629
DOI
10.3366/mod.2012.0041
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Robbie Moore In his short story `Guest's Confession' (1872), Henry James took inspiration from The Merchant of Venice, transporting Shakespeare's mercantile Mediterranean to an American resort hotel filled with members of the east coast business elite.1 An embezzled sum of twenty-thousand dollars and the seduction of the embezzler's daughter are messily entangled. Fittingly, James stages this entanglement of love and fraud inside a hotel ­ and in one crucial scene, in a blank and functional hotel sitting-room. Not only does this space hover ambiguously between the domestic and the commercial ­ bringing together two social domains that middle-class Victorian culture sought to hold apart ­ but the room itself seems fraudulent: its surfaces blank, slippery, and anonymous; its identity questionable. What James finds in this hotel sitting-room, and in a similarly odd hotel reading-room in The Reverberator (1888), is a `minor' space whose apparent non-signification, whose resistance to the meaningmaking processes of the realist novel, is itself a form of significance.2 The sitting- and reading-rooms are leisure spaces without leisure; offices without work; drawing-rooms without family. As such, these rooms mark an early appearance in James of a distinctly modern form of architectural space. A precursor to modern

Journal

Modernist CulturesEdinburgh University Press

Published: Oct 1, 2012

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