Undoing Adulthood in the Work of Henry James
The final chapter turns to Henry James, often hailed as the “Master” and the only mature American novelist, and yet, James’s fiction actually unsettles the notion of adulthood, complicating rather than consolidating this category. In What Maisie Knew (1897), James exposes the various inflections that compromise the autonomy of the adult subject, suggesting that age alone does not produce independence, rationality, or maturity. Indeed, the notion of adulthood as an epoch of independence and self-determination may be a fiction not unlike that of childhood innocence. His work highlights how adulthood derives much of its cultural authority through an enduring association with independence, particularly financial independence, and suggests that interdependence and caregiving may entail forms of maturity that are not rewarded, sanctioned, or made legible in a culture that confuses coming-of-age with class assent and individualism.
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