The Spatial Politics of Urban Modernity
Henry James’s ‘Washington Square’
Pages 7 - 25
‘The American Scene’ and other later texts have been at the center of attention in the critical discussion of Henry James’s explorations of urban modernity. Against the background of these readings and the theoretical assumptions of the so-called spatial turn and urban studies, this contribution looks at ‘Washington Square’ (1881) as an early example for James’s ambivalent investigations of American urbanity and modernity. Understanding space not as a background for the plot but as constitutive for the agenda of the novel, I will focus on presentations of New York’s gendered and racialized spatiality in ‘Washington Square’. While less complex and developed than the later texts usually discussed in this context, ‘Washington Square’ presents New York as an increasingly diverse and dynamic environment, intertwined with both the nation and transnational processes, and thus a place of conflict over early urban modernity from the 1820s to the time of its publication in 1881.