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Reviewed by:
Carren Kaston. Imagination and Desire in the Novels of Henry James. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1984. 202 pp. $22.50.
Mark Seltzer. Henry James and the Art of Power. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984. 200 pp. $19.95.
Judith L. Sutherland. The Problematic Fictions of Poe, James and Hawthorne. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1984. 133 pp. $19.00.
Ernst Braches. Engel en afrond over "The Turn of the Screw" van Henry James. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1983. 184 pp. pb. No price given.

These four books may in some unscientific way represent the continuing diversity of interest in the works of Henry James. Kaston's book, the most absorbing of the three English studies (Braches's book is in German, except for the Epilogue), covers a goodly number of James's novels, and a few short stories, from the perspective that former critics have not fully recognized how James has consciously contributed to his readers' doubts about the value of renunciation—too many have thought their inability to accept the saintliness of a Claire de Cintré or a Lambert Strether was because of a tension between James's values and their own. Kaston argues that many of James's characters, often his centers of consciousness, fail to be imaginers of their self, and it is in the "negative space" of the fiction, the shadow of the plot, the shape it might have taken, that the reader is led to question this failure of the imagination. Only in What Maisie Knew and The Golden Bowl are there centers who take on the dangers of self-authorship, and between Maisie and Maggie it is Maggie who is better able to fuse self with the external world.

Although Kaston may herself be entering into some invention in her statements about the inadequacies of former readers of Henry James, she nevertheless constructs an analytical approach that offers a fresh recasting of the characters' dilemmas and their resolution of them. Kaston sees the desire for a self that is created in collaboration with others and in the world as the essence of feminism—the attempt to create a relationship where neither "domination" nor "surrender," neither "mastery" nor "victimization," is acceptable. Kaston uses James's own phase, "the predominant imagination," as the paradoxical descriptor for the person who, like Maggie Verver, desires and achieves the experience of mutuality.

The chapter titled "The Melodrama of Helplessness" is chiefly interesting because of the connection Kaston makes between Alice James's invalidism and the desire of characters such as Catherine Sloper, Claire de Cintré, and Isabel Archer to create melodramatic rituals as a substitute for active involvement in the world. Further, their renunciations are primarily based on others' definitions of life, not their own. Like Alice James, they became self-victimizers through their acceptance of a design that conformed to another's vision of life, usually a parental figure. There are two imaginers of Isabel Archer's life—Ralph Touchett, an Emersonian idealist, and Gilbert Osmond, a collector of portraits. [End Page 252]

In the next chapter on the ambassadorial consciousness, Kaston pursues James's resistance to the Emersonian theory of self. Fleda Vetch and Lambert Strether eventually advocate self-concepts that reflect a belief in a universal self that is not to be tarnished by too close an identity or involvement with the physical and the social. The heroine of "In the Cage" is, however, breaking down the enclosures that would isolate the self; she actively pursues experience, resisting the melodramatic ritual of renunciation. And it is with this heroine that the major figures of Kaston's last chapter, Maisie Farange and Maggie Verver, are most closely identified. Both Maisie and Maggie author their own fictions of self; and Maggie most completely can possess both "self and world."

Kaston's most provocative analysis occurs in the section on The Golden Bowl where she unites the several threads of her argument—feminist theory, Emersonian idealism, and melodramatic rituals. Kaston demonstrates that Maggie indeed creates the novel: she creates speech acts, she designs structures of behavior, she assigns roles. Many of the scenes of the second half of the novel are given, as Kaston illustrates, "no independent existence...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 252-255
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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