Too Close for Comfort: Henry James, Richard Wagner and The Sacred Fount

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In April 1880, one of the most intriguing lost opportunities in musical-literary history took place. Henry James and Richard Wagner were staying in Posilippo, near Naples. James was beginning a two-month visit to Italy, whilst Wagner was living in the Italian town with his family, working on essays including ‘Religion und Kunst’ (1880) and preparing the staging for Parsifal (1882). A mutual friend, Paul von Joukowsky, suggested to James that he and Wagner meet but the offer provoked an emphatic rejection from the American novelist. It would have taken place amid the heady bohemianism, homosexuality and obsessive aestheticism of Wagner's Italian circle of which Joukowsky was a part. No doubt their meeting would have been stilted and strained, suffused with various forms of social awkwardness, yet, as we shall see, James's explanation of his refusal has the overtones of a justification. Despite – or because of – the aborted meeting, James repeatedly returned to this unrealized encounter in his writing. He referred to the composer or his works in more than a dozen of his novels and short stories from the 1880s to the early twentieth century; these muted but resonant references suggest an informed and engaged response to Wagner and his works. It is as if, though these allusions, James re-imagined this event, composer and novelist encountering each other in numerous texts over a period of 20 years
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalNineteenth-Century Music Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


Dive into the research topics of 'Too Close for Comfort: Henry James, Richard Wagner and The Sacred Fount'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this