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Two Talks from the 1980 Meeting of the Henry James Society: With pleasure and with gratitude to the authors—Jean Frantz Blackall and Edwin Sill Fussel I—we present here two of the talks given at the James Society meeting in Houston on December 30, 1980. The third talk, by Quentin Anderson, will be published in the forthcoming volume of Prospects: An Annual Journal of American Cultural Studies. The Case For Mrs. Brookenham by Jean Frantz Blackall, Cornell University Author's note: In preparing for the Henry James Society the paper that follows (read in Houston in 1980), I had in mind three reference points that it may interest the reader to know: Daniel J. Schneider's "Reading and ... Evaluation" of The Awkward Age in the Spring 1980 issue of the Henry James Review; my own piece on literary allusion in The Awkward Age, which appeared in Modern Fiction Studies in Summer 1980; and R. D. McMaster's article on James and Thackeray in N i neteenth-Century F i et i on, March 1978. In part my paper is a response to Schneider's judgment that "The significance of Mrs. Brook's circle is never really made clear. ... If the novel is to work on us powerfully, we must see that Mrs. Brook and the circle stand for something which is, or might be, truly 'wonderful' and 'beautiful,' or truly significant" (p. 226). My answer, as demonstrated in what follows, is that Mrs. Brook does stand for something truly significant, which is the occasion for her having the circle. "The second great flaw" that Schneider attributes to The Awkward Age is that "There is no sense of inevitability in the action because the motivation [behind the characters' decisions] is, in the last analysis, simply inadequate" (p. 226). Perhaps there is no such inevitability because The Awkward Age dramatizes unresolved (or only tentatively resolved) process. As regards both Vanderbank and Nanda the novel dramatizes the attempt to make up one's mind or to discover a self rather than reasoned choice. That is illustrated both here and in my piece on literary allusion in The Awkward Age, which undertakes to show that indecisi veness, spiritual dividedness, is the very essence of James's subject as it is explored by both author and characters. Insofar as this insight is assisted by inquiry into the literary contexts for the novel, the paper that follows is a sequel to the MFS article in the assumption of a primary imaginative impulse from Thackeray in James's rendering of his own fiction. I came to this sentiment prior to reading R. D. McMaster's thorough documentation of the linkage between the early James and Thackeray, so that our two studies, taken together, are corroborative. The question of The Awkward Age and The Newcomes and the larger question of James's imaginative debt to Thackeray, barely touched on here, are ones to which I will return hereafter. The Awkward Age counterpoints two life-styles, the one personified in Mr. Longdon and the other in Mrs. Brookenham. Beccles, Longdon's country home, is the product of time, nature, reflection, and cultivated tastes, its gracious life-style underwritten by money. Buckingham Crescent is the product of timeliness, artifice, wit, imagination, its fortunes rising and ebbing as the moon draws the tides — and Mrs. Brookenham is the moon. Between these two contrasted worlds are two characters, Vanderbank and Nanda, who must determine their relationship to either one. Their situation is like that of Strether, who must assimilate his knowledge of Paris and Woollett to determine a personal stance. Strether, as we know, wholly affirms neither Paris nor Wool lett; rather, he regards the social and aesthetic nuance of the one and the rectitude of the other, meanwhile purging himself of the license of Paris and the unmitigated mental rigidity of Wool lett. In The Awkward Age the two sides of Strether's consciousness are dissociated and separately borne by Vanderbank and Nanda. For neither of them can incorporate both 155 poles of Strether's sensibility, Nanda ultimately taking refuge in Longdon's "temple of peace"; and Vanderbank, in Mrs. Brookenham's "temple of analysis." The case for Mrs. Brookenham...


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