There is the fear of exposure (as if one would be exposed as, really, nothing), or the general theme of exposing (the debutante ritual, or the pretense of initiating someone into ‘something’ that isn’t really ‘there’). There is the anxiety of being out of place (an ‘American in Europe’) especially and so the constant wariness about shame, the experience of shame, and then the cycle of revenge and ressentiment so occasioned. There are the bizarre attachments and dependencies, the doubles and twins, the Masters and Slaves, dead authors and living researchers, and other such pathologies of social dependence. There is the constant reality or presence of the unspoken, unsaid because unsayable but nevertheless real (as in Isabel’s final knowledge, or Strether’s), the fascination with secrets and obsessions about hidden, crucial meanings not yet found, the ghosts and the question of their reality, and so on. All these are reflections of this situation, of modernity as the collapse of reliable forms of sense-making, and the beginning of a kind of sociality that reflects precisely this uncertainty and often desperation and paranoia.
– Robert Pippin,
Henry James and Modern Moral Life, p. 58.