Many of the plot structures and stylistic concerns we associate with Henry James's later fiction can be found in his first published tales of thwarted courtship in postbellum America. In courtship and its arts of verbal flirtation James discovered a model for his own elusive rhetorical manner. The speech habits of women in particular fascinated young James: alert to subtle shifts of tone, responsive to things left unsaid, and discreet in their replies, the women in such stories as "A Most Extraordinary Case," "Poor Richard," and "A Day of Days" seem to have mastered the style James seeks. The vulnerability of this style to misinterpretation by the tonally illiterate is the hard lesson learned by these women, whose creator's faith in refinement had always been troubled. James's interest in women's tonal literacy links his "master phase" with his apprenticeship years, and it suggests that American social life has been undervalued as a factor in James's literary modernism. Modernist experiments in verbal ambiguity partly reflect the unstructured course of modern love, as first pursued in the era of Reconstruction.

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