Abstract: Henry James’s style is famous,
or perhaps infamous, for its complexity. Numerous critics
have commented on James’s ‘difficult’
writing, and also noted that James’s style becomes
more complicated in the later novels. But while the
‘difficult late style’ is noted, few critics
describe its characteristics in detail, and hardly any
look at the syntax of James’s writing.
This seminar presents results from a pilot project
which compares a chapter from Washington Square,
an early James novel, with one from The Golden Bowl,
a late novel, using the methodology of corpus stylistics.
An annotated database was compiled from the two chapters,
making it possible to search for particular grammatical
features and compare how much they are used.
After distinguishing between sentence length and complexity,
the standard measure of syntactic complexity, the number
of dependent clauses, will be used to compare the two
chapters. There will be a particular focus on James’s
use of embedded elements, which are quantified in a
‘delay score’ comparable to Ohmann’s
non-quantified ‘self-embedding’. The contrast
between sentences containing direct speech and non-speech
narrative will also be demonstrated.
In conclusion, the findings, based on this small sample,
show an increase in complexity from the early to late
texts, but also suggest that much of the readers’
impression of complexity may be based on a few extraordinary
sentences. Finally the extension of this pilot into
a full research project will be described, and and the
suggestion made that this methodology might be used
for other work on literary style.