American Memory in Henry James is about the cultural, historical and moral dislocations at the heart of Henry James' explorations of American identity - between power and love; modernity and history; indeterminate social forms and enduring personal values.
The text covers the power, and the limits, of the language of morality and interpretive imagination as James grapples with what America and Europe have in common; and also with what, because their contexts and sense of history are so profoundly different, they cannot have in common. Righter's great theme is the tensions that impelled James ultimately to stretch the novel, his beloved 'prodigious form', almost to breaking point, in search of an ultimately elusive synthesis.
The American Scene - his account of an America, revisited after long absence, that was reinventing itself right down to the touchstones of its identity - is its entry point; The Golden Bowl is its primary testing ground.
The questions raised transcend the historical moment and the specifically Jamesian sense of dislocation, to go to the heart of modern identity, and the nature of literary endeavour.