1 mar. 2011

Don't Know Much About Henry James

What always bothered me about Henry James was the sheer emptiness of the minds of the characters. The narrator is always telling us how smart a character is, but we never see them have any actual idea. I love his short stories though, especially those that feature the life of the writer. He forbade narrative intrusions in the novel, the "dear reader" sort of thing. It's hard to forgive him that, which set back metafiction a generation. On the other hand, these stories are practically Borgesian: the writer who spends all his time socializing while his ghostly-alter ego writes the actual works. "The Figure in the Carpet" would be another one in this genre.

While I don't like James's prohibition of intrusive meta-commentary from the narrator, I don't like Wayne Booth's objection to this prohibition on moralistic grounds in The Rhetoric of Fiction.. Everyone remembers Booth's book for the coinage of term "the implied reader," but his real agenda was a moralistic one: he wanted the narrator to a be an ethical guide telling the reader what to think. I much prefer James's moral ambiguity.

There is a rather odd novel by HJ about a quasi-Lesbian couple broken up by a supposedly "noble" Southern Gentleman who seduces the younger partner. I think it's called The Bostonians. I don't know what's supposed to be so noble about owning slaves and almost destroying the nation in an attempt to keep on owning them.

I hate the stupid Freudian interpretations of "The Turn of the Screw" that were popular mid-century, but I like Sedgwick's reading of "The Beast in the Jungle."

Sad to say, I don't like James's actual prose style. It is vague and verbose. A novelist born in the same year that I much prefer is Galdós. While James is a kind of early modernist, Galdós is realist, but Galdós is actually more modern in his narrative technique. The plot of El amigo Manso anticipates that of Niebla by almost thirty years.

I took a senior-level English course on HJ in 1980 or 81. I still remember a lot, including the topics of my papers, and I still hate The Wings of the Dove with a passion.

2 comentarios:

zbs dijo...

That is indeed The Bostonians. Pretty terrible, including some of his word landscaping.

zbs dijo...

'Worst,' although that's interesting.