"A pastoral landscape under the smoky sky": Four Encounters in London Parks

El-Rayess, Miranda. 2012. '"A pastoral landscape under the smoky sky": Four Encounters in London Parks'. In: Placing Henry James. International conference. University of Notre Dame, United Kingdom. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

James consistently chose homes that were just steps away from London’s royal parks; and, in many ways, these green spaces are central to his vision of the great grey Babylon. His observation in the essay ‘London’ that these parks ‘form a part of the impression of any walk, of almost any view’ has a strong foundation in his day to day experience. James’s vision of these public spaces, frequently mediated by art and literature, was at once pastoral (if self-consciously or ironically so) and intensely urban. They were scenes of both social inclusiveness and extravagant social display. The ‘drawing-rooms and clubs of the poor’ often complete with ‘rough characters … lying on their faces in the sheep-polluted grass’, were also parading grounds for the aristocracy, and could at times evoke the stately country ‘chase’ with its ‘scattered oaks and elms’ and noble views (‘London’ III-IV; ‘London at Midsummer’). Like so many authors and playwrights before him, James was well aware of the park’s scene-making potential.
This paper focuses on a group of scenes between lovers or would-be lovers, in which the social and sexual dynamics of the setting are thrown into relief by comparison with another cross-class public environment – the shop. In The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), In the Cage (1898) and The Golden Bowl (1904), James places London park scenes involving couples in close proximity to similar scenes that take place in shops. While the shop tends to provide a space in which couples can explore alternative possibilities without reaching any definite resolution, in the expansive outdoor space their motivations and relative positions are far more exposed. In the latter three texts, it is in the more conventionally romantic park setting that the unsustainable, illegitimate nature of these relationships becomes unavoidably clear. My readings of James’s texts make use of the rich cultural and social history of London’s parks, drawing on literature by other authors, contemporary newspapers, guidebooks and maps.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


17 March 2012Accepted
1 July 2012Completed

Event Location:

University of Notre Dame, United Kingdom

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Jul 2019 13:44

Last Modified:

19 Jul 2019 13:44



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