Title page for ETD etd-01272004-203526

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Hamilton, Sarah
Author's Email Address sarahkhamilton@aol.com
URN etd-01272004-203526
Title Ethics and Literature: Love and Perception in Henry James
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Joseph Kronick Committee Chair
Bainard Cowan Committee Member
Richard Moreland Committee Member
  • the spoils of poynton
  • ethical criticism
  • what maisie knew
  • in the cage
Date of Defense 2003-11-24
Availability unrestricted
In this paper I argue for the value of literature in ethical instruction. Following Martha Nussbaum, I argue that literature often promotes the kind of context-specific judgment, respect for the cognitive value of the emotions and empathy for others that are foundational to the kind of ethical judgment Nussbaum and I support. Like Nussbaum, I find that Henry James's novels evince these same ethical values and that his novels, especially the novels of the late phase, are therefore useful for ethical instruction. Unlike Nussbaum, however, I do not believe that James portrays erotic love as an emotion that is incompatible with ethical judgment. Instead I believe that James makes a distinction between desire and love and that the former is incompatible with ethical judgment but the latter is not. In fact, I argue that James portrays erotic love as a stimulus to the kind of openness to the other that is necessary for accurate judgment, and I demonstrate this by examining the main characters of three novels of the experimental phase The Spoils of Poynton, What Maisie Knew, and The Awkward Ageand exposing the ways in which their love for others, especially their erotic love for others, encourages (or could have encouraged, in cases where the characters fail to love) their capacity for ethical judgment.

By focusing on three novels from the experimental period I also expose the connections between the thematic concerns of the experimental and late periods and suggest that James is as preoccupied in his middle period as is in his late period with the relationship between awareness of others and an appreciation and affection for them.

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