Tessa Hadley examines how Henry James progressively disentangles himself from the moralizing frame through which English-language vels in the nineteenth century had imagined sexual passion. Hadley argues that his relationship with the European vel tradition was crucial, helping to leave behind a way of seeing in which only 'bad' women could be sexual. She reads James's transitional fictions of the 1890s as explorations of how disabling and distorting ideals of women's goodness and purity were learned and perpetuated within English and American cultural processes. These explorations, Hadley argues, liberate James to write the great heterosexual love affairs of the late vels, with their emphasis on the power of pleasure and play: themes which are central to James's ambitious enterprise to represent the privileges and the pains of turn-of-the-century leisure class society.
Tessa Hadley is Lecturer in English and Creative Studies at Bath Spa University College. She has published articles on Henry James and on Thomas Mann in The Cambridge Quarterly and on James in English. Her novel Accidents in the Home is published in 2001 by Jonathan Cape.