Henry James is difficult to locate. That is to say, he exists in the library, in the databases, in the critical literature, under many locations. There is the American Henry James, the European Henry James and the international Henry James. In 2003 the Henry James Review devoted a special issue to ‘Global James’. We append categories to his work, calling some ‘the New York stories’ or ‘the American essays’, and more always remains to be said about his ‘international theme’. Early critics often presumed that James turned his back on America, while contemporary scholars wonder about his late-career concern with the land of his birth, as evidenced in The American Scene. All along, we wonder, how and where does James matter?
On the other hand, I want to argue, the difficulty of attempting to locate James, or to place him in relation to a national context is precisely the point, and one of the reasons why we continue to read and reread him today. That is, James’s writings participate in the development of notions of cosmopolitanism, within both the US and Europe, that remain influential today, and that undergird contemporary discussions of national culture, cosmopolitanism and globalization. Without wrenching James from his era or trying to claim that he was somehow prescient about the twenty-first century (or for that matter, about the twentieth), I want to argue that the versions of cosmopolitanism James presents in his essay ‘Occasional Paris’, his short stories from the nineties, such as ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Greville Fane’, as well as in other late writings, such as The American Scene, represent a complex response to the possibilities and limitations of cosmopolitanism at the turn of the twentieth century. James was concerned with the expansiveness of American commercialism, the jingoism of its political posturing and with the threat of warfare, and sought to mitigate its effects by espousing a practical cosmopolitanism opposed to imperial and commercial swagger and often deeply connected to ideals of femininity. On the other hand, his work constantly exposes the lack of connection to culture and the problematic rootlessness among many cosmopolitans in Europe, and highlights the danger it posed to both women and men.