By Gordon Taylor
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Additional resources for Chapters of Experience: Studies in Modern American Autobiography
18 Studies in Modem American Autobiography It stems rather from the cumulative experience, within the book's development, of James's 'restless analyst' (as he calls himself throughout), a persona sharply similar in many ways to Henry Adams's self-portrayal in the Education, which was privately circulated in the same year James's volume appeared. The American Scene is finally, in a sense fusing its imaginative and documentary aspects, a methodical rather than incidental work of autobiography, in which James repeatedly brings the remembered or reimagined past to bear on the present moment of his encounter with an altered America.
He finds himself before each scene, wish really to get into the picture, to cross, as it were, the threshold of the frame. It never lifts, verily, this obsession of the story-seeker, however often it may flutter its wings, it may bruise its breast, against surfaces either too hard or too blank. 2 Now thinking more in a novelist's than in a landscape painter'S terms, seeking to unfold a story rather than to present a completed picture, James emphasizes the effort, even the violent struggle of the imagination to penetrate resistant, unarticulated material, rather than its noiseless drift across the perfectly composed surface of the previous scene.
21 The American Scene, at the outset of which James re-encountered the ghosts of Family, is in reality - in close connection with immediate American facts as well as the ghostly past - the personal autobiography James found he wanted to write, whatever his subsequent efforts in a more traditionally prescribed genre. It enables him to reach out from, without violating, the solitude of his art, to address American issues as an American. He does so while maintaining, at least for those moments of imaginative coalescence which constitute his 'chapters of experience,' the vantage points and the values, private and universal, of both autobiographer and artist.
Chapters of Experience: Studies in Modern American Autobiography by Gordon Taylor