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“This Wild Hunt for Rest”: Working at Play in The Ambassadors

Shawna Ross
Journal of Modern Literature
Vol. 37, No. 1 (Fall 2013), pp. 1-20
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/jmodelite.37.1.1
Stable URL:
Page Count: 20
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“This Wild Hunt for Rest”: Working at Play in The
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Both recent scholarship on the literature of travel and emergent theories of the transnational have ignored the key roles played by twentieth-century philosophies and institutions of leisure. This article begins to consider the cultural and material history of leisure as a significant trope in modernism by identifying an aesthetics of leisure developed in Henry James's letters and fiction, particularly his late novel The Ambassadors (1903). The critical charge of this novel, I argue, resides in its transformation of two contemporaneous discourses — the Protestant work ethic and its lesser-known but equally pervasive counterpart, the ideology of modern leisure — into an aesthetically productive dialectic of labor and leisure. Considering James's aesthetics of leisure as theme and style in his fiction and as a self-consciously elaborated mode of literary production in his non-fiction suggests the broader significance of leisure for modernism.

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