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The Men Who Knew Too Much

Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock

Edited by Susan M. Griffin and Alan Nadel

Publication Date - February 2012

ISBN: 9780199764433

288 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

An innovative pairing of Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock, showing them to be at once classic and contemporary


Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock knew too much. Self-imposed exiles fully in the know, they approached American and European society as inside-outsiders, a position that afforded them a kind of double vision. Masters of their arts, manipulators of their audiences, prescient and pathbreaking in their techniques, these demanding and meticulous artists fiercely defended authorial and directorial control. Their fictions and films are obsessed with knowledge and its powers: who knows what? What is there to know?

The Men Who Knew Too Much innovatively pairs these two greats, showing them to be at once classic and contemporary. Over a dozen major scholars and critics take up works by James and Hitchcock, in paired sets, to explore the often surprising ways that reading James helps us watch Hitchcock and what watching Hitchcock tells us about reading James. A wide-range of approaches offer fresh insights about spectatorship, narrative structure, and cinematic representation, as well as the relationship between technology and art, the powers of silence, sensory-and sensational-experiences, the impact of cognition, and the uncertainty of interpretation. The essays explore the avowal and disavowal of familial bonds, as well as questions of Victorian convention, female agency, and male anxiety. And they fruitfully engage issues related to patriarchy, colonialism, national, transnational, and global identities. The capacious collection, with its brilliant insights and intellectual surprises, is equally compelling in its range and cogency for James readers and film theorists, for Hitchcock fans and James scholars.


  • This is the only book that compares the work of these 2 Masters of fiction and film, a provocative, rich pairing
  • Brings together a range of literary and film scholars and theorists, collecting new work by important and well-known critics
  • Features over 35 halftone illustrations

About the Author(s)

Susan Griffin is a Distinguished University Scholar at the University of Louisville.

Alan Nadel is William T. Bryan Chair in American Literature and Culture at the University of Kentucky.


"Readers will be at once surprised and enlightened by the similarities discovered between Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock. These excellent essays persuasively and lucidly argue for a shared set of preoccupations in the works of the novelist and the filmmaker: preoccupations about personal and national identity, knowledge and authority, sexuality and gender. Each artist is shown to inspire new and important readings of the other. This is an original and highly readable contribution to literary and cultural studies." --Leo Bersani, University of California, Berkeley

"To 'read' these artists in tandem is to appreciate not only the special achievement of each, but the way great artists pursue a dialogue across time, across media, that allows us to honor the distinctive quality of James's narratives from a cinematic perspective, and the roots of Hitchcock's cinematic triumphs in daring novelistic experiments." --Lee Clark Mitchell, Princeton University

"Refreshingly original.... [T]he book provides a fresh insight as to relationships between texts, and our choices on how to 'read' one with the 'help of' the other." --Journal of American Studies of Turkey

"The Men Who Knew Too Much will no doubt become required reading for scholars of both James and Hitchcock, but the originality and imagination with which literature and film are brought together here mean it deserves the attention of a much broader readership." -- The Henry James Review

Table of Contents

    Reading James with Hitchcock, Reading Hitchcock with James, Susan Griffin and Alan Nadel
    National Bodies, Susan Griffin
    Secrets, Lies, and "Virtuous Attachments": The Ambassadors and The 39 Steps, Brenda Austin-Smith
    Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock after the American Century: Circulation and Non-Return in The American Scene and Strangers on a Train, Brian T. Edwards
    Colonial Discourse and the Unheard Other in Washington Square and The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alan Nadel
    Bump: Concussive Knowledge in James and Hitchcock, Mary Ann O'Farrell
    James's Birdcage/Hitchcock's Birds, Patrick O'Donnell
    Sounds of Silence in The Wings of the Dove and Blackmail, Donatella Izzo
    The Perfect Enigma, Judith Roof
    Hands, Objects and Love in James and Hitchcock: Reading the Touch in The Golden Bowl and Notorious, Jonathan Freedman
    The Touch of the Real: Circumscribing Vertigo, Eric Savoy
    Specters of Respectability: Victorian Horrors in The Turn of the Screw and Psycho, Aviva Briefel
    Caged Heat: Feminist Rebellion in Henry James's In the Cage and Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, John Carlos Rowe
    Shadows of Modernity: What Maisie Knew and Shadow of a Doubt, Thomas B. Byers
    Awkward Ages: James and Hitchcock In Between, Mark Goble
    Works Cited