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date: 06 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay argues that modern theoretical approaches to performativity, and its usefulness as a tool for interpreting the representation of language acts and interpersonal relations, were in large part anticipated by Henry James, in his theatrical criticism, his autobiographical writing, and his fiction. In offering readings of The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Tragic Muse (1890), and A Small Boy and Others (1913) the essay demonstrates that James’s domestic spaces are his richest performative arenas, framing their occupants, and staging their exchanges. Domesticity and its spaces are indeed for James the root and source of the performative instinct. The essay also seeks to show how Jamesian performances depend on the material things and possessions about which he also writes with such enthralled attention; and concomitantly how an attention to performance adds new dimensions to our understanding of ‘thing theory’.

Keywords: Henry James, Portrait of a Lady, Tragic Muse, performativity, domesticity, theatre, drama, thing theory

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