The Violence of Representation: James, Sargent and the Suffragette

El-Rayess, Miranda. 2011. The Violence of Representation: James, Sargent and the Suffragette. Critical Quarterly, 53(2), pp. 30-45. ISSN 0011-1562 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In May 1914 suffragist Mary Aldham, alias Mary Wood, slashed John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Henry James with a meat cleaver. Contemporaries responded to the attack with anger and bafflement, and more recent commentators have also encountered interpretative difficulties. However, when read alongside other suffragist acts of militancy and reactions to these acts, the incident reflects tellingly on a significant web of ideas in James’s work. Focusing on four stories from different stages in James’s career – ‘The Story of a Masterpiece’ (1868), ‘The Liar’ (1888), ‘Glasses’ (1896) and ‘The Beldonald Holbein’ (1901) – this article explores the author’s conception of the particular form of violence involved in portraiture, a violence linked with women’s exclusion from the fields of political and artistic representation. In James’s writing and other cultural sources, women’s infiltration into these privileged spheres is associated with crude commerciality and the debasement of culture; but James’s exploration of the overlap between advertising and artistic representation betrays his deep ambivalence on the subject.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Mary Wood, Henry James, John Singer Sargent, suffragette, suffragist, violence, portrait painting, literary representation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


14 July 2011Published

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Date Deposited:

07 Sep 2015 08:33

Last Modified:

10 Jun 2021 08:59

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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