Voices from Venice: Gender and Sound in The Aspern Papers and “The Chaperon”

Lisa Nais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


James starts his 1892 essay "The Grand Canal" with the image of the Santa Maria della Salute, a Roman Catholic basilica, located at the mouth of the Grand Canal. James describes the Salute as a "woman of the world" whose "well-bred assurance" welcomes the visitor on the figurative "threshold" of Venice (CTW 315–16). James's emphasis on the church's secularity, as opposed to its spirituality, does away with its ostensibly inherent holiness. Adding the connotations of a fallen woman (or at least a too knowledgeable or material woman) adds insult to injury. There is another side to the simile, though. James personifies the Salute and puts her in the position of welcoming each visitor, as she is the first beautiful Venetian sight to behold. Her appearance constitutes the visitor's first taste of the materiality, knowledge, and imperturbability of Venice while also highlighting the antithesis of the church's secularity and spirituality. Thus, the description of the Salute characterizes not only the church but also the city, which is also often described by means of an antithesis: beauty and evil. This antithesis and these qualities of Venice are transformative in James's short fiction. Analyzing the connectivity of space and sound relative to the notions of gender and societal limitations, I argue that James creates a Venetian space in which women's voices command agency and their relationships benefit from an increased quality of sincerity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-30
Number of pages9
JournalThe Henry James review
Issue number1
Early online date11 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


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