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Huckleberry Finn

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he Warning in The Beast in the Jungle

"In the case of Henry James there should not be much dispute about the

exactness and completeness of the representation; no man ever strove more

studiously or on the whole more successfully to reproduce the shape and

color and movement of his ├Žsthetic experience." These are the remarks

of Stuart P. Sherman from his article entitled "The Aesthetic Idealism of

Henry James," from The Nation, p. 397, April 5, 1917. Now, some seventy-two

years later critical readers are still coming to terms with James'

aesthetic vision. As we have discussed in class, James aestheticizes

everything. Sexual intercourse, carnal knowledge, painful self-discovery,

human mortality, etc., are often figuratively and metaphorically veiled so

as not to disturb or repulse the reader. Taking a closer look at this, one

might say that James did this so that he himself would not be repulsed.

Perhaps James wasn't thinking so much of the reader as he was thinking of


In "The Beast in the Jungle" James has aesthetically hidden the

reality of Marcher's destiny by treating it as a symbolic crouching beast

waiting to spring. The reader will ask why James has done this? Wouldn't it

be more effective to speak plainly of Marcher's and Bartram's relationship?

The author could tell us exactly why John Marcher does not marry May

Bartram. The narrator tells us that Marcher's situation "was not a

condition he could invite a woman to share" and "that a man of feeling

didn't cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger hunt" (p. 417).

This is nonsense. Marcher won't marry May because he doesn't want to

inconvenience her with his condition or endanger her life on a tiger hunt?

First of all, he inconveniences her right up to the day of her death with

his condition, and as for the metaphorical tiger hunt, what exactly does

that refer to? What is it here that James will not speak of in plain

language? Simply what is the meaning of this; what is the author's intent?

One might speculate that this story is somewhat autobiographical in

that James himself never married and often carried on close personal

relationships with a very select few. The various biographers of his life

have brought to light a number of respectable ladies and men with whom

James was personally and privately acquainted. There is also the belief

that everything an author produces is autobiographical to a certain extent.

And supposing "The Beast in the Jungle" is largely autobiographical, once

again I ask what was James' intention? Is the story so autobiographical

that James felt it necessary to create an elaborate smoke-screen to elude

the critics of its true meaning in view of his personal life? Was the

aesthetic curtain drawn to protect his privacy? I believe this to be the

case, yet it seems to me that "The Beast in the Jungle" might also be read

as a warning to people who behave much like Marcher. Perhaps James is

saying one should not be foolish with the precious time of one's life. I

believe Krishna Vaid would agree with me; Vaid states:"The wider thematic

context of 'The Beast' is perhaps too obvious to merit more than a bare

mention: it is a 'fantastic' embodiment of the central Jamesian theme of

the unlived life"(Vaid p. 224). Readings and interpretations on James'

intent vary widely.

For this brief examination I have acquired around ten different

sources. There was also an exchange of ideas in our February 28th class on

other critical works which I will attempt to deal with. In some ways the

criticism I have found is rather uniform, but on some points it differs

considerably. I shall start with the common parts of the criticism. Because

"The Beast in the Jungle" is a rather short work, the majority of these

critics tend to summarize the entire story instead of concentrating on one

or two significant aspects. I have found they are in general agreement that

May Bartram is the figurative "Beast."



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