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Reading Italian Hours in the Anthropocene

Eric Morel


Cette étude fait dialoguer Italian Hours de Henry James avec les derniers développements en matière d’écotourisme anthropocène. Si l’écotourisme affiche une visée éducative, les spécialistes ont du mal à définir et à évaluer le type d’enseignement qu’il est susceptible d’offrir. Cet article examine d’abord les commentaires de James sur les textes de Ruskin à propos de l’Italie de façon à apporter l’éclairage des humanités environnementales sur la question, pour ensuite prolonger les études émergentes en éco-narratologie en s’appuyant sur l’essai « Siena Early and Late ».

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1Henry James’s reputation for probing social interactions and their motives is obviously well-deserved, but it has overshadowed how his habits as a “story-seeker always and ever” (James 225) led him to explore temporally mediated relationships to place, particularly in his travel writing. These efforts pervade The American Scene, which even in its title names the author’s constant treatment of American places as a stage. But it is no less true of Italian Hours, despite that title’s focus on time. In both texts, in fact, James pursues questions about what it means to live in the history of a particular land: the United States of America for their colonial novelty and Italy for its historical depth. Throughout Italian Hours, the writer basks in the felt presence of history, occupying the position of a participant-observer amid both antiquity and the energies of the present. Hours pass, but Italian places endure, and James offers his readers meditations on continuity in the midst of change.

2The questions that intrigue James throughout these essays have resurfaced in a high-profile way with the heralding of what geologists call the Anthropocene—the geological time period characterized by the activities of the human species as a determining force in planetary conditions. Taking up the concept from the natural sciences, environmental humanists have often been broad rather than precise; for example, in their introduction to Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times, Tobias Menely and Jesse Oak Taylor write that “the ‘Anthropocene’ in our title does not promise a single practice or method, but rather establishes the conditions under which all reading must henceforth proceed” (14). By extrapolation, this would include the reading tourists do before, during, and after their travels. Moreover, since geologists’ designation of the Anthropocene retroactively attributes the accretion of material constituting the new geological present to prior sources, past travels also fall within—even while having materially contributed to—planetary history’s newest geologic layer. Although Menely and Taylor’s collection makes no mention of Henry James—and although James’s work has not played a major role in ecocriticism’s development—his self-conscious manner of travel and his writing at Italian national modernity’s onset involve analogous concerns about experiencing modernity in transition.

  • 1 See James and Morel.

3James’s intense self-consciousness has made his writing appealing to interdisciplinary scholarship before, an example being Martha Nussbaum’s elaboration of ethics from his novels, or Rita Charon’s work on James at the foundation of her narrative medicine approach; this essay explores how James’s writing can inspire new ethical projects related to tourism, especially kinds of tourism that seek to foster greater environmental awareness and engagement. As for Nussbaum and Charon before me, the complexity and nuance of James’s prose is the incentive to study his works in an unusual, interdisciplinary context. So even though, as Daniel Hannah has observed, Henry James’s works have a critical history of being “imagined as inimical to ecocritical concerns” (261), my contention is that his writing can be brought to bear on a gap in studies of ecotourism, a discipline that broadly designates ventures explicitly aiming for short- and long-term benefits for ecosystems, communities, and tourists themselves. This gap has to do with how ecotourism scholarship discusses the educational components directed at tourists, which often uses social science methods and typically attempts to measure education as a process of informational uptake rather than, say, personal reflection; by contrast, my focus on Italian Hours has the aim of proposing a teleology for ecotourist reading that draws from James’s advocacy for aesthetic experience. Econarratology, which merges projects within narrative theory and environmental humanist scholarship, offers scholars an extensive bibliography that synthesizes strategies for the interpretation of narrative and environmental contexts.1 Within that emerging conversation, Erin James has begun speculating further about Anthropocene econarratology, attentive to the conditions of the epoch and their interface with narrative theory (257-9). Although Henry James is obviously an atypical tourist reflecting on an altogether different set of historical changes than the Anthropocene, Italian Hours shares metahistorical impulses with Anthropocene criticism.

Ecotourist Reading

  • 2 On the limits of exposure by itself see Orams, and Powell and Ham.
  • 3 See Mehmetoglu. Though inconclusive on its own, its findings agree with Powell and Ham about the e (...)

4Although the precise origin and attribution of the term “ecotourism” is still debated, most academic definitions share the tenets of The International Ecotourism Society: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (“What is Ecotourism?,” n.p.). The term seems to derive from Jost Krippendorf’s “alternative tourism,” which designates opposition to mass forms of tourism typified by corporate hotel chains, mass-produced consumer goods, and coextensive social and environmental damages experienced in tourist locales. Yet case studies of ecotourism continue primarily to assess societal and environmental impacts, and ecotourism’s educational effectiveness often remains unspecified. Several studies have commented on the typically “ad hoc fashion” of education programs and controverted the enduring widespread assumption that simply visiting places fosters affective attachment that will in turn change environmental behavior (Walter 29).2 More caustically, others express deep skepticism that ecotourism is anything more than “a significant form of ‘disaster capitalism’” (Fletcher). There is also research that finds many people participate in ecotourism chiefly for the amusement and departure from the everyday,3 which may be understandable but is not necessarily educational.

5The problem with much ecotourism research when it comes to education—and consequently, I would argue, a representative case for Henry James’s relevance to a travel discourse in which he himself did not directly participate—is evident in Mike Gunter, Jr.’s Tales of an Ecotourist: What Travel to Wild Places Can Teach Us About Climate Change. Based on its introduction, especially its citations of John Dewey, the book advertises itself as an argument for the experiential education ecotourism allows. As Gunter oscillates between telling stories of his personal travels and exposition on climate change’s threats, however, he tells his readers little about the educative value of ecotourism, and he neglects to make a case for how, specifically, travel enables any learned insights about ecologies or political issues. At best, he notes the educational work of guides and interviewees, but his own book’s ability to compile these begs the question. What can travel (eco- or otherwise) teach that reading or perhaps a good documentary could not? Indeed, as Gunter acknowledges at several points, there is more support for the opposite contention that travel contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and inequalities of economic development.

6Henry James, by contrast, does not produce accounts of place that substitute for traveling there; rather, he remarks frequently on the personal dimensions of experience that generate meaning for a traveller. Although Italian Hours compiles originally stand-alone essays, opening the volume with the essay “Venice” has implications for reading the essays that follow. Starting precisely where Gunter never goes, James mounts an apologia for writing about Venice in the first place, since “of all the cities of the world [it] is the easiest to visit without going there” (7). Books regularly rave about it, and even cheap galleries or gift shops will sell some image of it. Yet even as he lays out the case that everyone knows the place and that writing about it seems superfluous, he inverts the accusation to justify his contribution by remarking: “There is nothing new to be said about her certainly, but the old is better than any novelty” (7). To the extent that placement at the beginning the essay (and volume) creates rhetorical emphasis, this assertion is a signal for tourist readers of the interest James’s book has over other travel volumes on Italy. James’s inversion of novelty and oldness as the evaluative criterion for new writing about Venice advertises his thoughtfulness and thus participates in the travel writing market through subverting that market’s conventions; his refusal of novelty is ironically novel. Furthermore, tourist readers’ judgment of this essay’s opening could lead them to appreciate James’s perspective as a supplement to their own. James indicates the essay’s use as a supplement for travelling rather than as a replacement for it through his own characterization of the writing as “only […] a fillip to [the reader’s] memory” at the paragraph’s end (7).

7James mounts his apologia within the specific context of Ruskin’s having published travel volumes lamenting Venice’s despoliation, and treads lightly knowing that his writing defies Venice’s pre-eminent commentator. For example, although James concedes the “atrocities perpetrated” in Venice that so bothered Ruskin “are numerous and deeply to be deplored,” he counters as the sentence continues that “to admit that they have spoiled Venice would be to admit that Venice may be spoiled—an admission pregnant, as it seems to us, with disloyalty” (8). Whether intentionally or not, James’s use of “spoiled” here continues in the register of the section’s first sentence, which chides Ruskin for criticizing Venice unjustly: “Mr. Ruskin has given [Venice] up, that is very true; but only after extracting half a lifetime of pleasure and an unmeasurable quantity of fame from it” (8). The predatory connotations of the word “extracting” will strike natural-resource-minded ecocritics as resonating with the later “spoiling” to suggest—as later historians and scholars of tourism would argue—that tourism, in the wake of natural resource extraction industries that devastated landscapes, would eventually become an abusive industry itself. By implication, James sets himself apart from an extractive and disloyal touristic approach, and his alternative, if not significantly ecological, might nonetheless be seen as participating in the prehistory to ecotourism’s conditions of possibility.

8In the first section of that first essay as well as later in the volume, James makes another point about Ruskin that merits notice on the subject of reading and tourism, which is that tourism may not require reading at all but that both reading and tourism can benefit one another when paired, a point that Gunter and other ecotourist advocates overlook. James writes that “[o]ne may doubtless be very happy in Venice without reading at all,” and that Ruskin specifically “will never bear the test of being read in this rich old Italy” (8, 116), yet “[t]here is no better reading at Venice […] than Ruskin, for every true Venice-lover can separate the wheat from the chaff” (8). In Venice and in Florence, Ruskin’s books and criticisms have “great charm,” but spending time in these cities themselves leads to qualifications and revisions of their ideas (116). In Florence, for example, James and an unnamed friend concur, when James reads Ruskin aloud after sightseeing, “that there are a great many ways of seeing Florence, as there are of seeing most beautiful and interesting things, and that it is very dry and pedantic to say that the happy vision depends upon our squaring our toes with a certain particular chalk-mark” (116). Ruskin is not the only chalk-mark, of course; James also has somewhat ambivalent relationships with the Murrays and Baedekers used by other tourists. But judging from James’s stance toward Ruskin, reading and empirical experience make valuable complements.

Econarratologies of Place in Italian Hours

9Although Henry James is obviously not directly concerned with the Anthropocene, that concept having arisen long after his travels in Italy were done and written, his essays might well provide an indirect angle on transitioning into the Anthropocene through their view of Italy’s changing national modernity. James himself relished, of course, an indirect view. Part of what makes the essays of Italian Hours so suggestive for this perspective is their being replete with passages wherein James observes time’s materialization—often via such refined perceptions as his sensation airborne particulates. Other readers of James have, of course, remarked upon the relation of time and space in these essays. As part of his multifaceted exploration of “experience” in James, Steven Salmoni writes: “In Italian Hours the symbolic journey into the space of Italy is also a journey into time, into Italy’s meaning as History and as the ideal of antiquity” (220). Jacek Guthorow, meanwhile, asserts that “a more attentive reading” of Italian Hours “reveals that Italy became for James a site and a place of puzzling spectrality, which has not let time and space consolidate into any whole” (96). For my purposes as an ecocritic, however, such arguments’ emphases on the “symbolic” and how space eludes “consolidat[ion]” risk underestimating the importance of the actual places—the piazzas, the ramparts, the rural roads—that provide the basis of James’s reflections. To attend more materially to specific places, I limit my examples to “Siena Early and Late,” which is split into two parts: an 1873 account of James’s travel to Siena and a supplemental revision added when he compiled Italian Hours. Recognizing how materiality of place factors into James’s accounts of those places provides the basis for my reflections on James’s usefulness to Anthropocene econarratology.

10The first section of “Siena Early and Late” begins with James looking into a moonlit piazza, professedly unable to distinguish between his own present and medieval Italy, and the temporal dimension implicitly stretches further into geological time when he notes that the piazza is built “in the cup of a volcanic crater” (221). When James goes into the streets to encounter the city’s “antiquity” (222), he sees more past glory than present wealth but finds in the decline less decay than dignified resolve:

We may plead moreover for these impecunious heirs of the past that even if it were easy to be clean in the midst of their mouldering heritage it would be difficult to appear so. At the risk of seeming to flaunt the silly superstition of restless renovation for the sake of renovation, which is but the challenge of the infinitely precious principle of duration, one is still moved to say that the prime result of one’s contemplative strolls in the dusky alleys of such a place is an ineffable sense of disrepair. Everything is cracking, peeling, fading, crumbling, rotting. No young Sienese eyes rest upon anything youthful; they open into a world battered and befouled with long use. Everything has passed its meridian except the brilliant façade of the cathedral, which is being diligently retouched and restored, and a few private palaces whose broad fronts seem to have been lately furbished and polished. Siena was long ago mellowed to the pictorial tone; the operation of time is now to deposit shabbiness upon shabbiness. But it’s for the most part a patient, sturdy, sympathetic shabbiness, which soothes rather than irritates the nerves, and has in many cases doubtless as long a career to run as most of our pert and shallow freshnesses. It projects at all events a deeper shadow into the constant twilight of the narrow streets—that vague historic dusk, as I may call it, in which one walks and wonders. (222-23)

11The accrual of history which this extract describes is, for James, an especially Italian characteristic, so the observations here are specific to the historical and material identity of place. The passage presents a place made simultaneously poor and rich by its history, as summed up by the somewhat oxymoronic idea of “impecunious heirs” in the first sentence. The way the materials, including stone, show the traces of time is apparent to multiple senses in actions starting with the auditory “cracking,” and these actions lead to the assessment of “disrepair,” which seemingly emphasize the “impecunious” half of the oxymoron. Furthermore, the fact that the following two sentences each begin with the word “Everything” reinforces the idea that the impression of disrepair is pervasive and not, as in many tourist locations, confined to one historic district. But even if the church and private palaces weren’t marked here as possible exceptions, the change in evaluation that tilts the balance more toward “heirs” comes when James—as he does throughout Italian Hours—begins to consider the scene rendered as a picture, as possessing a “pictorial tone” that redeems the disrepair and ruin that is alluded to earlier in the extract. Even though the paragraph here mentions and then repeats the word “shabbiness,” that shabbiness is “sympathetic” and even soothing. By the time the paragraph ends on a sense of wonder, the depth of shadow projected into the streets comes to have value as an aesthetic asset. Of course, forms of aristocratic poverty are common in James’s work and notable plot features of many of his novels, and this Italian city that is at once historically rich and yet decaying presents no great departure from that cultural preoccupation. However, at least one difference of observing these qualities in places instead of people is that places such as public streets are comparatively easier to access than the social milieus of the aristocracy.

12There are clear distinctions to be drawn then between the judgment this paragraph makes and a reading of this same paragraph as an analogy for a kind of historical positioning within the Anthropocene, but the position of the “young Sienese” of this passage born into “a world battered and befouled” before their arrival can, with these admitted concessions, be generalized to think about the Anthropocene inhabitant’s historical position. After all, the scientific designation of the Anthropocene depends on the “deposit” of “the operation of time” that bequeaths “shabbiness” to the present through what enters the geologic layer and through other biosphere effects. The limit of such a comparison in this passage is, again, that James here finally finds that shabbiness likeable (“sympathetic” and soothing), in accordance with his aesthetic appreciation of place, whereas the Anthropocene, of course, is turning out to present a far less appealing picture.

13Nonetheless, the econarratologist should pause here to consider the mismatch between duration, in Genette’s sense of narrated actions with defined temporal bounds, for instance, and “duration” as Henry James uses the term in the above quotation as the ongoing endurance of buildings across historical periods, since this mismatch has a correlation in the Anthropocene, when the Holocene (a stratigraphically bound duration in the geologic record) has effects that persist in the next geologic layer. Like the “shabbiness” of Siena, the shabbiness of the Holocene can be expected to cast a long shadow, though there is little reason to expect it to be as sympathetic. Econarratologists may also be prompted by James’s final casting of history through the first-person “I” to reflect on how different narrators frame those durations. While Erin James, in dialogue with postcolonial historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, makes a persuasive case for the commensurability of “We” narrators with the aggregate species-sense of an “Anthropos” embedded in conceptualizing the Anthropocene, the above passage from Henry James presents a scenario where individual actions result in passive acquiescence into a collectively held thought, since the “one” who “walks and wonders” matches the pronoun earlier of the “one” who “is still moved.” Henry James’s “We” is not the same as Erin James’s—Philip Tsang’s consideration of late style in The American Scene, drawing on James’s letters, cautions that James’s use of “we” “is not simply an impersonal pronoun but has a specific historical referent: it connotes what James in his earlier years called ‘an Anglo-Saxon total,’ a transatlantic collectivity that configures the ‘life of the two countries as continuous or more or less convertible, or at any rate as simply different chapters of the same subject’” (301)—but the difference between the “specific historical referent” the two authors refer to should encourage econarratologists to track which kinds of narrators posit different understandings of agency across time.

14If the “Early” part of the Siena essay emphasizes the persistence of the medieval into the present, by James’s own admission the later portion considers more openly how modernity is, nonetheless, reshaping the city and its environs. Part II of “Siena Early and Late,” opens with a note of dissatisfaction about James’s initial response; “I was to see Siena repeatedly in the years to follow,” he writes, justifying adding to, rather than editing or omitting, the earlier essay: “I let my perhaps rather weak expression of the sense of Siena stand, at any rate—for the sake of what I myself read into it; but I should like to amplify it by other memories” (231). That amplification has to do, in large part, with a shift in James’s appreciation of Sienese art. Whereas, for example, the “Early” portion’s terse final sentence—“Wander behind the altar at Siena when the chanting is over and the incense has faded, and look well at the stalls of the Barili”—renders its imperative as perfunctory through its lack of rationale or further explanation of the stalls’ merit, a major part of James’s change of heart stems from a changed appreciation for the “storied fresco-worlds” in Siena, especially Pinturicchio’s (230). Alongside these artistic reassessments, James also witnesses more modernity in process over time, from local politics, to the dwindling of the Benedictines at the Monte Oliveto Maggiore monastery, to the automobiles that convey tourists from place to place.

15In alignment with James’s explicitly emphasized revision, Oliver Herford attends closely to revisions of the word “picturesque” across versions of the essays in Italian Hours, concluding that, because James seeks to do “justice to the fact of revision as itself partly an effect of time,” “the picturesque convention continues to be useful for James exactly because it offers a rationale for valuing the accidental in aesthetic terms, and that it becomes more useful over time just because it offers itself as a gauge for measuring time” (162-3). For Herford, Italian Hours marks James’s development as a writer by dint of these micro instances of change.

16When ecocritics recontextualize works previously unassociated with environmental thought within that intellectual context, they too treat texts and their reception as “gauge[s] for measuring time,” as Wai Chee Dimock’s work has shown. Asking whether literary history can speculate about how events subsequent to a text’s writing might serve as illuminating contexts for that text, her essay “Three Wars: Henry James and Others” posits James’s uses of semicolons along with the subjunctive and pluperfect verb moods characteristic in James’s fiction as “generators of these back stories […] with many pockets of time whose recesses cannot be precisely calibrated” and indicative of his work’s historical open-endedness (3). Integral to her experiment is her characterization that the “pluperfect is the verb form that moves the action to a more remote past, conjuring up a duration that cannot be encompassed by the simple past. And the subjunctive is a verb form that moves the action beyond the realm of the actual, conjuring up a duration that cannot be encompassed by the simple present” (3). The challenge Dimock’s speculative approach raises alongside a piece like Herford’s involves gauging time conceived as non-linear—a frequently relevant challenge in literary study since readers seldom align their reading with the chronology of an author’s works, and an especially relevant challenge for a text like Italian Hours composed in a non-linear manner.

17The imprecise temporalities Dimock notes pair well with observations Erin James makes when remarking on temporality in Anthropocene econarratology. Erin James cites Brian Richardson’s work as exemplifying narrative theory’s most prominent treatment of “anti-mimetic” temporalities, and she pushes on his own characterization of these temporalities as exclusive to fictional texts by using Rob Nixon’s work on slow violence. She points out that slow violence, which includes phenomena such as environmental racism and radiation contamination, makes distorted and collapsing timelines a prominent feature of the Anthropocene nonfiction record, collapsing Richardson’s distinction. Curiously, though, James arrives at her claim that “[c]onflated temporalities are a part of our everyday, ‘natural,’ nonfiction reality in the Anthropocene” by way of Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas—both novels—as her examples (193). Dimock also restricted her comments to James’s fiction. Italian Hours, then, offers an opportunity to extend the arguments set forth by these authors.

18In a lengthy passage in the second part of the essay, James uses what Dimock perceives as metahistorical temporalities while he argues for the historical impressions to be garnered from in-person experience rather than from reading archival sources. James, in a descriptive polysyndeton encompassing the range of his interests as an “incurable student of loose meanings and stray relics and odd references and dim analogies in an Italian hill-city bronzed and seasoned by the ages,” concedes with a metaphor in the subjunctive that, as such a student, he

ought perhaps, for justification of the right to talk, to have plunged into the Siena archives of which, on one occasion, a kindly custodian gave me, in rather dusty and stuffy conditions, as the incident vaguely comes back to me, a glimpse that was like a moment’s stand at the most of a deep, dark mine. I didn’t descend into the pit; I did, instead of this, a much idler and easier thing. (234)

19That “thing,” as he puts it, was strolling out on the Lizza, which “had its own unpretentious but quite insidious art of meeting the lover of old stories halfway.” His resulting advice to a fellow tourist, who may not be “a strenuous specialist, in places of a heavily charged historic consciousness,” is

to profit by the sense of that consciousness […] so that if the general after-taste of experience, experience at large, the fine distilled essence of the matter, seems to breathe, in such a case, from the very stones and to make a thick strong liquor of the very air, you may thus gather as you pass what is most to your purpose. (234)

20Rounding out his case for the preferability of a leisurely stroll over an arduous descent into the mine of the archives, James defines that “purpose” as “more the indestructible mixture of lived things, with its concentrated lingering odor, than any interminable list of numbered chapters and verses” (234). Whereas “Chapters and verses, literally scanned, refuse coincidence, mostly, with the divisional proprieties of your own pile of manuscript,” his “vaguest saunterings” on the Lizza were never in vain. Rather:

They were vague with the qualification always of that finer massing, as one wandered off, of the bronzed and seasoned element, the huge rock pedestal, the bravery of walls and gates and towers and palaces and loudly asserted dominion; and then of that pervaded or mildly infested air in which one feels the experience of the ages, of which I just spoke, to be exquisitely in solution; and lastly of the wide, strange, sad, beautiful horizon, a rim of far mountains that always pictured, for the leaner on old rubbed and smoothed parapets at the sunset hour, a country not exactly blighted or deserted, but that had had its life, on an immense scale, and had gone, with all its memories and relics, into rather austere, in fact into almost grim and misanthropic, retirement. This was a manner and a mood, at any rate, in all the land, that favored in the late afternoons the divinest landscape blues and purples—not to speak of its favoring still more my practical contention that the whole guarded headland in question, with the immense ramparts of golden brown and red that dropped into vineyards and orchards and cornfields and all the rustic elegance of the Tuscan podere, was knitting for me a chain of unforgettable hours; to the justice of which claim let these divagations testify. (235)

21This passage acknowledges two kinds of expertise: one from reading and one from strolling in place. While James makes a concession to the former, here he clearly prefers the latter, given his characterization of Sienese history as abundantly available to one’s senses when walking through it—especially at the location of the Lizza—including the way the stone structures and far off landscapes together provide something of a synthesis of the archive’s material. Thus, James proposes here that history can be known by being felt as well as by being read. Suggestively for an Anthropocene-related reading, the medium of that feeling is an “atmosphere,” with the air around him conveying a thick material trace of the surrounding materials.

22James’s use of “instead” in the above quotation joins two possibilities for the same past: the metaphor of reading as mining labor offered in the initial subjunctive construction on the one hand, and the act of strolling appreciatively among actual stones and landscape on the other, and I would like to suggest that this pairing presents a situation of considerable interest to ecotourists, econarratologists, and Jamesians. To ecotourists, the subjunctive meditation poses thoughtful questions about competing and curtailed choices, particularly between reading and travel, through James’s consideration of the activities’ qualitative differences. Econarratologists, for their part, can study James as at least one nonfiction example of the timelines relevant to the Anthropocene that Erin James cites from Richardson, thereby bringing Anthropocene econarratology to bear on earlier texts; indeed, “divagations” and narrating alternative possible historical trajectories may one day become a substantial sub-genre of interest to Anthropocene econarratology. Finally, Jamesians interested in the author’s relationships to various popular and elite readers may further explore the tensions between refined exclusivity and pedestrian availability at work in such tourism passages; James leaves the “justice” of the forked options here open to the testimony of his description, and the deliberation thus invoked can serve varying assessments of the author’s place in the travel writing market.

  • 4 One might also suggest that with the onset of the motor-car overtaking the horse-drawn cart, and w (...)

23Although the above passage derives its chief drama from the contrast of the “ought […] to have” construction and what the author did “instead,” Dimock’s argument helps draw attention to the pluperfect instances embedded at the paragraph’s core, especially in conjunction with the paragraph that follows it, where James extends his justification of impression-seeking by preferentially comparing a “single-horse conveyance” into the country to “the rush of the motor-car” (235). As Dimock notes, the pluperfect sets off a history into “a more remote past” (3). This matches James’s reflection, in the extract quoted above, as he stares out onto the “rim of far mountains” of “a country not exactly blighted or deserted, but that had had its life, on an immense scale, and had gone, with all its memories and relics, into rather austere, in fact into almost grim and misanthropic, retirement.” That is, the contrast between the participial adjectives “blighted or deserted” and the doubly closed pluperfect uses of “had had” and “had gone” places the latter even further out of reach—not least because the sentence ends with the word “retirement,” which itself denotes spatial retreat. Furthermore, these uses of the pluperfect clearly recall James’s late preface to Italian Hours as a revised volume, where he refers to the remote past of his Italy as a record of “the interesting face of things as it mainly used to be” (5). When James evokes, therefore, the road “doubtless familiar now with the rush of the motor-car,” his “now” not only marks the arrival of petromodernity as distinct from a previous “then” but reinforces the remote distance of that modernity from Siena’s past and his own prior visit, recalling Herford’s idea of revisions as a “gauge for measuring time.”4

24The pluperfect, like the subjunctive, offers fruitful further inquiry for ecotourists and econarratologists. Ecotourists may wonder what the instantiation of their travel programs signals as having ended; thinking explicitly about what forms and impacts of tourism are being relegated into the past by their descriptor as ‘eco-’ may help see past the greenwashing that survives in the industry. For econarratologists, attention to the pluperfect may prove most useful for naming parts of “differential,” or superimposed, temporalities. Indeed, part of the challenge of narrating the Anthropocene has had to do with reconciling the carryover of influences from the supposedly finished Holocene.

Conclusion: Brooding Ecotourism in the Anthropocene

25“Siena Early and Late” is by no means singular among the essays of Italian Hours in having passages that describe history as sedimentation, often accumulated through aerial dispersal. Others range from the remembrance of “Casa Alvisa,” where Venice is a “repository of consolations” that mix “with its air and constitutes its unwritten history” (76), to the “Florentine Notes,” which end with reference to the Medicis, of whom “what remains of it all now is a mere tone in the air” (271). But even as the forms of impending “doom” (62) are specific to Italy and the onset of mechanization that threatens its medieval integrity (such as the petroleum James smells as “a symbol of the Italy of the future” [105]), James himself makes gestures supportive of thinking about Italian Hours in wider tourism contexts. In some of these, he reflects directly on travel itself, such as when he writes that:

A traveller is often moved to ask himself whether it has been worth while to leave his home—whatever his home may have been—only to encounter new forms of human suffering, only to be reminded that toil and privation, hunger and sorrow and sorted effort, are the portion of the mass of mankind. To travel is, as it were, to go to the play, to attend a spectacle; and there is something heartless in stepping forth into foreign streets to feast on “character” when character consists simply of the slightly different costume in which labour and want present themselves. (106)

26Although James is most directly discussing issues of social class in this passage, the irony of going abroad to encounter the problems of home applies to environmental concerns as well. Scholars of ecotourism have explicitly considered the potential hypocrisy of “spectacle.” But recognition of the Anthropocene’s diverse manifestations across the globe may enhance the ecotourist’s understanding of its planetary scale. Econarratology, as a portable set of educational tools, may increase awareness of the ecological crisis’s commonalities from one site to another.

27Rather than suggest that all ecotourists tuck a copy of Italian Hours into their carry-on, this article invites analysis of James’s travelogue in shaping educational experiences for ecotourists. Henry James may appear an unlikely inspiration to contemporary tourist readers through his self-figuration as a “brooding tourist.” But Anthropocene ecotourism has emerged in a gloomy context, and the Anthropocene’s damage to planetary systems will likely endure, which reinforces the possible associations with the distemper connoted by “brooding.” The verb “to brood” also suggests, however, the action of dwelling and even of incubating, and James’s use of the word to describe himself indicates thoughtfulness. Econarratology can pair with ecotourism to provide more tools that emphasize the complex and various temporalities of environmental causation and effects—and thus help cultivate other brooding tourists capable of incubating mindsets fit to endure and narrate the Anthropocene’s existential challenges. A perceptive traveller, Henry James may still teach readers to live in times when history not only seems to but sensorily does thicken the air.

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1 See James and Morel.

2 On the limits of exposure by itself see Orams, and Powell and Ham.

3 See Mehmetoglu. Though inconclusive on its own, its findings agree with Powell and Ham about the effectiveness of considering tourist enjoyment as driving educational goals.

4 One might also suggest that with the onset of the motor-car overtaking the horse-drawn cart, and with allusions like those of land being “bronzed and seasoned” (past tense) by “the ages,” the content of the passage quoted above evokes something akin to solastalgia—that Anthropocene condition of felt displacement while remaining stationary that has been named by Albrecht and highlighted by Erin James.

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Eric Morel, « Reading Italian Hours in the Anthropocene »Viatica [En ligne], HS 3 | 2020, mis en ligne le 23 janvier 2020, consulté le 18 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Eric Morel

University of Washington

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