Second James Lecture

I spent the class looking at the similarities between "Beast in the Jungle" and "Daisy Miller" in terms of what each story says, & the differences in how the stories say it, to lead toward the way HJ moves, between 1878 & 1903, toward a recognizably more "modern" set of assumptions about the role of art, the artist & the reader. I didn't budget my time well, and so didn't get to say as much as I should have about how "Beast" suggests ways 20th century American literature would behave, but I'll try to make the points clearer here -- and in any case we'll have lots of time in the coming weeks to talk about what Hemingway called "modern American literature."

So, "Daisy" & "Beast" -- similarities of theme. Marcher also suffers from "Winterbourne's complaint," an excess of consciousness, an atrophy of instinct. An advanced case, as whole story emphasizes idea of "lateness/belatedness" even more. October afternoon, WeatherEND (pp. 541-42), May, not Daisy(& "April") -- though role May "doesn't play" in Marcher's story is same as role Daisy "doesn't play" in Winterbourner's: i.e. chance to be reborn, live, through love, escape consciousness and self through loving another. We spent a while looking at Section IV of "Beast," where "climax" (as modern anti-climax) occurs (esp. pp. 560-62), though Marcher doesn't realize it until end (p. 570), with a scene (as in "Daisy Miller") in a cemetery, with woman in ground, where (again) desire can only marry regret.

Similarity of technique (as segue into differences): ironic structure of both stories, limited or ironic third-person narrative. Irony an inescapable term for modern fiction. Even Huck Finn: the point of Huck's story is that Huck doesn't get the point of his story, i.e. can't see how he's "enslaved" by values of culture. And way reader of Winterbourne's or Marcher's tales has to see exactly what both men miss, because what they miss is again at the heart of what stories are about. So to read modern fiction, reader (YOU) has to be more alert, skeptical, interpretive, attentive.

Differences of technique: Started with what HJ asks reader to attend to. "Daisy" easy story to misread, but also easy to read. It caters to conventional appetites for a story: exotic locations, poignant death of young, beautiful girl. "Beast" makes much heavier demands on reader. Especially on reader's ability to substitute interest in style, technique, for appetite for plot. Even title sets up expectations for event/drama that story deliberately frustrates, and (as we noted with examples from pp. 548-49) HJ's many metaphors keep reminding reader of story he's not writing -- rafting down river, digging for buried treasure, etc.

By "late James," center of interest has shifted, from what happens in a fiction to how fiction as work of art produces its reality. I suggested that in "Beast," if Marcher is anti-hero, artist/writer is hero. And role of reader HJ suggests is new at that time: to RE-read, to study a work of fiction (rather than just enjoy a tale), to get to the end and then, like Marcher at end, "re-view" the "open page" of his life (p. 570). I think a story like "Beast" almost demands to be read at least twice, that most of its subtleties can only be appreciated on RE-reading, and said I don't think any novelist before HJ really wrote on that premise. Plenty after HJ did, of course, including the Modernists like Faulkner whose novels really require many readings fully to appreciate.

So HJ redefining work of art (more end in itself), and role of reader (kind of student) -- and, I didn't hesitate to say, also helping make my job, as professional explicator of works of fiction, possible.

Back to Syllabus