Tag Archives: james

The expatriate experience

There seems to be a sudden change in the expatriate’s experience of return in the stories we have read following World War I, aside from just psychological effects.  In “Soldier’s Home” in  In Our Time (1925), Krebs remarks that “nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up,” and observes changes in women’s fashion.  In Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Peter Walsh notices on his return from India that “Newspapers seemed different,” and mentions a man who writes about toilets openly in “one of the respectable weeklies.”  In the postwar period, it appears there is more of a focus on external societal changes than on internal ones upon the expatriate’s return. In The Jolly Corner (1908) however,  we see the opposite, as Spencer Brydon seems to care much more about the internal, evident in his proclamation that “It’s only a question of what fantastic, yet perfectly possible, development of my own nature I mayn’t have missed.”  On first glance this difference could perhaps be chalked up to the war experience, but Peter’s making an observation in the same vein as Krebs without actually having directly experienced the war suggests that perhaps a widespread change in societal thought took place following the war, and that the war stunted internal conflict at large.

Historical Line: Urban Society

  • Henry James, The Jolly Corner (1909)
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1918)
  • Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body? (1923)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

These works, to a greater or lesser degree, represent urban life, whether in New York City, Dublin, or London. Two trends, specifically, seem to stand out:

First, the idea of communal social interaction. Only explicitly seen in Mrs. Dalloway, there is a sense of shared consciousness among the denizens of the modern city, who experience the same locations and events, as well as the same sorts of social interactions.

Second, and more applicably to all four texts, is a sort of “urban mystery.” The Jolly Corner and Whose Body? are mysteries, peripherally in the case of the first and primarily in the case of the second – but Portrait and Dalloway also explore the mystery of the human consciousness, particularly Portrait’s first half, where the reader is meant to feel “lost” within the sea of human history and culture.

Differences in “Whose Body”

“”I mean to say,” said Lord Peter, “that it was not Sir Reuben Levy whom the cook saw last night on the doorstep. I say that it was another man, perhaps a couple of inches shorter, who came here in Levy’s clothes and let himself in with Levy’s latchkey. Oh, he was a bold, cunning devil, Parker. He had on Levy’s boots, and every stitch of Levy’s clothing down to the skin. He had rubber gloves on his hands which he never took off, and he did everything he could to make us think that Levy slept here last night. He took his chances, and won.” (Sayers).

“Whose Body?” By Dorothy L. Sayers. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Sayers has a completely different style from James. James uses the style of the delayed specification of referents, whereas, exemplified in the paragraph above, Sayers’ novel employs logical deduction. Through the delayed specification of referents, the detail in James’ text seems difficult to the reader to the point where detail is lost in different streams of consciousness. Both texts entail a level of mystery, but each author employs a completely different literary approach. Sayers writes a detective novel, and Peter deduces the mystery by going through a set of clues and ruling out certain factors by using logic. Sayers’ style comes off as more concise than James’ style.

Describing the body

“The body which lay in the bath was that of a tall, stout man of about fifty. The hair, which was thick and black and naturally curly, had been cut and parted by a master hand, and exuded a faint violet perfume, perfectly recognisable in the close air of the bathroom. The features were thick, fleshy and strongly marked, with prominent dark eyes, and a long nose curving down to a heavy chin. The clean-shaven lips were full and sensual, and the dropped jaw showed teeth stained with tobacco. On the dead face the handsome pair of pince-nez mocked death with grotesque elegance; the fine gold chain curved over the naked breast. The legs lay stiffly stretched out side by side; the arms reposed close to the body; the fingers were flexed naturally.” (Sayers 8)

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

In her novel, Whose Body?, Sayers consistently gives the reader specific and detailed information on the characters as well as the events taking place. This passage directly tells the reader what the body in the bath looks like. This description distinctively states what Lord Peter sees, and therefore the reader gets a clear picture of the appearance of the body and can imagine himself at the scene. Contrastingly, in The Jolly Corner, Henry James is not as upfront with the reader. James’ character Brydon does not always relay to the reader the information needed to piece the story or scene together. There is not always an obvious picture of what he is experiencing, which leaves the reader frequently wondering about what is actually happening. This technique of delayed specification is not used by Sayers in this passage, which shows a clear difference between the two stories. One is very explicit in giving descriptions, while the other is continuously delaying in giving the reader information.

James and Freedom

“A novel is in its broadest definition a personal impression of life; that, to begin with, constitutes its value, which is greater or less according to the intensity of the impression. But there will be no intensity at all, and therefore no value, unless there is freedom to feel and say. The tracing of a line to be followed, of a tone to be taken, of a form to be filled out, is a limitation of that freedom and a suppression of the very thing that we are most curious about. The form, it seems to me, is to be appreciated after the fact; then the author’s choice has been made, his standard has been indicated; then we can follow lines and directions and compare tones. Then, in a word, we can enjoy one of the most charming of pleasures, we can estimate quality, we can apply the test of execution.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”. <public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/artfiction.html> Longman’s Magazine 4, September 1884

This passage from “The Art of Fiction” describes the freedom needed in order to allow the novelist to produce his or her best work. A question that arose while reading this passage was how a novelist could truly experience this freedom James refers to while knowing that his or her work would eventually undergo “the test of execution”. The freedom discussed in this passage appears to be a limited freedom, because the novelist will always in some way be dependent upon the reader’s criticism.

Impression and Interest

A novel is in its broadest definition a personal, a direct impression of life: that, to begin with, constitutes its value, which is greater or less according to the intensity of the impression. But there will be no intensity at all, and therefore no value, unless there is freedom to feel and say.

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction.” Major Stories & Essays. New York: Library of America, 1999. p 578.

The significant notion here is that worthy novels are those that capture some of the essence of life, not real life in particular, but life readers can relate to. There must be some imitation of something people already know and can recognize. James suggests that without that ability (or ‘freedom’) to experience and then tell/write about it, to therefore lay down this foundation for a novel, the end result will fall flat – it will lack intensity, and fail to spark interest.

James and Metaphors

“This sense of the story being the idea, the starting-point, of the novel is the only one that I see in which it can be spoken of as something different from its organic whole; and since, in proportion as the work is successful, the idea permeates and penetrates it, informs and animates it, so that every word and every punctuation-point contribute directly to the expression, in that proportion do we lose our sense of the story being a blade which may be drawn more or less out of its sheath. The story and the novel, the idea and the form, are the needle and thread, and I never heard of a guild of tailors who recommended the use of the thread without the needle or the needle without the thread.”

(Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” in Majors stories and essays. Literary classics of the United States, New-York, 1999, p582.)

James really likes to use metaphors, even back to back.

 

James on breaking the fourth wall

“In a digression, a parenthesis or an aside, he concedes to the reader that he and this trusting friend are only ‘making believe.’ He admits that the events he narrates have not really happened, and that he can give his narrative any turn the reader may like best. Such a betrayal of a sacred office seems to me, I confess, a terrible crime; it is what I mean by the attitude of apology, and it shocks me every whit as much in Trollope as it would have shocked me in Gibbon or Macaulay. It implies the novelist is less occupied in looking for the truth (the truth, of course I mean, that he assumes, the premises that we must grant him, whatever they may be) than the historian, and in doing so it deprives him of a stroke of all his standing-room.”

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” In Partial Portraits. New York: Macmillan, 1894. Internet Archive. http:// archive.org/details/partialportraits00jameiala.

Experiences made into convention?

“Selection will be sure to take care of itself, for it has a constant motive behind it. That motive is simply experience. As people feel life, so they will feel the art that is most closely related to it. This closeness of relation is what we should never forget in talking of the effort of the novel. Many people speak of it as a factitious, artificial form, a product of ingenuity, the business of which is to alter and arrange the things that surround us to translate them into conventional, traditional moulds. This however, is a view of the matter which carries us but a very short way, condemns the art to an eternal repetition of a very short way, condemns the art to an eternal repetition of a few familiar clichés, cuts short its development and leads us straight up to a dead wall. Catching the very note and trick the strange irregular rhythm of life, that is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps Fiction upon her feet. In proportion as in what she offers us we see life without rearrangement do we feel that we are touching the truth; in proportion as we see it with rearrangement do we feel that we are being put off with a substitute, a compromise and convention.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999. pp. 586.

James discusses the importance of when a novel contains truth verses that which has been fabricated. The genuine portrayal of experiences is how Fiction thrives; it is art in its most relatable form.

A “good” novel: expectations and interpretations

“They would argue, of course, that a novel ought to be “good,” but they would interpret this term in a fashion of their own, which indeed would vary considerably from one critic to another. One would say that being good means representing virtuous and aspiring characters, placed in prominent positions; another would say that it depends on a “happy ending,” on a distribution at the last of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions, appended paragraphs, and cheerful remarks. Another still would say that it means being full of incident and movement so that we shall wish to jump ahead, to see who was the mysterious stranger, and if the stolen will was ever found, and shall not be distracted from this pleasure by any tiresome analysis or “description.” But they would all agree that the “artistic” idea would spoil some of their fun.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999), 576.

Everyone has different interpretations when it comes to reading a novel. There are certain expectations from the reader when getting deeper into a story that cannot and will not always be fulfilled. When it comes to characters and the situations those characters find themselves in, the reader will either be for or against the way the story plays out. When reading a fiction novel, we realize that our interpretations and expectations are just that. The author will end the story the way he or she wants. How we interpret the stories determines whether or not the novel is “good.”