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Flaxman, E. (2009). Henry James and the Art of the Dream. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(5):723-742.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(5):723-742

Henry James and the Art of the Dream

Erwin Flaxman

In the first volume of his autobiography, A Small Boy and Others, written around 1912, Henry James (1913) describes “the most appalling yet admirable nightmare” of his life (p. 347). He recalls the terrifying dream in Chapter 25, as he narrates an adolescent excursion with his brother William to the Luxembourg Palace and to the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1856. The sudden recollection of the dream is one of the rare times that James interrupts the historical progress of his story to project forward in time to narrate a later event. Leon Edel (1992) conjectures that the actual dream, though not necessarily the one recounted in A Small Boy, was dreamt on the night of July 21, 1910, when James was experiencing hysterical cardiac symptoms and a debilitating depression and panic, which the dream may have helped to lift temporarily. Since the previous October James had marked his date book with black and red crosses to signal days of feeling depressed or relieved, and he called July 21, a “red-letter” day, possibly acknowledging his victory in the dream (Edel, 1992, pp. 444-445).

James (1913) recounts the dream at the point in his autobiography in which he remembers a visit to the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre, which becomes the setting of the dream. In James's words, the dream was an “adventure,” the “sudden pursuit, through an open door, along a high saloon” of someone who “retreated in terror [his] rush and dash.”

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