This essay proposes to consider how The American (1875) is symptomatic of Henry James's elocutionary insecurities about the demands the European nineteenth-century novel placed on the authorial voice—crucially aggravated by the American stutter that accompanied the young writer on arrival in Paris. James would, however, learn to turn such insecurities to his advantage by attending the Théâtre Français and paying close attention to the declamatory style of the melodramatic actors at a time when his first ambition had been to become a playwright. James tried his hand at playwriting from the start, adapting Daisy Miller and part of The American for the stage in the early 1880s. Back in the 1870s, heavily under the spell of melodramatic theater, James's refusal to transcribe the American accent of Christopher Newman into writing testifies his affront to the realist novel's reduction of character to idiomatic stereotypes with the author as master ventriloquist. More importantly, it led the way to the reinvention of the novel's acoustics. If traditionally subjugated by the domineering visual aesthetics of formal realism, which reduced voice to a rescindable soundtrack chained to a referential world, with James the novel itself becomes the aural experience of a textual performance in the declamatory tradition of the Théâtre Français—ultimately operatic at that. His late practice of dictation may be best understood as a kind of recitative—and justly as he learned to manage his stutter in the process. James would crucially, if perhaps reluctantly, inaugurate acousmatic abstraction as a dare for future modernist writers to see with their ears.

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