The Work of Being Worked (For): Intimacy, Knowledge, and Emotional Labor in the Works of Henry James



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



Henry James’s novels operate within a vibrant social economy, as “the working and the worked were in London, as one might explain, the parties to every relation” (The Wings of the Dove 201). James’s later works illustrate that the impulses belying interpersonal connections – even the wish to be “authentic” with others – manifest in relationships that are both intimate and transactional. My thesis explores the ways in which characters operate with, around, and through the management of feeling or emotional labor, and how emotional labor can be a source of intimacy and knowledge for those involved in its performance. I define emotional labor as the deliberate and affirmative practice by which people employ their feelings to leverage social interactions, acquire knowledge, and navigate structures of power. The web of transactions depicted in James’s novels have become “workable” for me in the context of emotional labor, providing the tools to consider the complex questions that arise from James’s texts. What do lovers do to each other and to those around them in the service of making their relationship socially and economically viable? How does a service worker assist her customers in a manner that both facilitates the operation of a capitalist system and performs an act of resistance? What are the costs of emotional labor for those who perform it? Tracing the performances of emotional labor within a text allows me to begin to answer these questions and explore how knowledge, power, and intimacy function in both James’s texts and society at large.






Bunce, Lauren (2018). The Work of Being Worked (For): Intimacy, Knowledge, and Emotional Labor in the Works of Henry James. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.