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The Figure in the Carpet of James's Confidence by Daniel J. Schneider, University of Tennessee "Confidence has been universally dismissed by the critics and deserves to be," writes Oscar Cargill in his The Novels of Henry James.1 The sole interest which this piece of hack-work, "executed . . . with James's left hand," can summon up nowadays, he goes on to say, lies in such peripheral and minor matters as the novel's indebtedness to stage comedy, its setting, its anticipation of James's later work, its reflection of James's acquaintance with Henry Adams. Yet, as Cargill observes in a footnote, James himself evidently thought Confidence worth taking seriously. Conceding the "lightness" of the book, James told his brother that "read as a whole, the thing will appear more grave."2 And since James was hardly one to mistake mere contrivance and claptrap for seriousness and significance, we are led to ask what underlying significance the novel had for James and why, indeed, he was prompted to write it in the first place. What was the animating center of the book? My thesis is this: that Confidence was interesting and worthwhile to James because it was part of his lifelong effort to dramatize the problem of the free spirit in conflict with the worldly aggressors who would use their victims, forcing them into submission to worldly ends and thus denying the spontaneity and the possibilities of the soul. The figure in the carpet of Confidence was, in short, the figure in the carpet of James's fiction: the theme of freedom-and-enslavement, which in 1879 was already proliferating very richly in the novels and tales.3 To discern the presence of this freedom-enslavement pattern in Confidence we have only to examine carefully the basic structure of the book, with particular emphasis on the pattern of oppositions and the alignment of "free" and blocking characters, or, as Mr. Poirier would say, the "free" and "fixed" characters. But before proceeding to that, we had better review the action which constitutes the skeleton of the plot. It is a very slight action indeed, developing from a love-triangle. The hero, Bernard Longueville, having been asked by his old friend Gordon Wright to deliver his opinion on the girl Wright wishes to marry (Angela Vivian), decides that Angela is a coquette and perhaps mercenary to boot, and warns his friend against a match with the girl. Thereafter Wright marries a girl of the Daisy Miller s tamp--B lanche Evers. But when, after a lapse of a few years, Longueville encounters Angela Vivian, he falls violently in love with her; he decides 1. Oscar Cargill, The Novels of Henry James (New York: Macmillan, 1961), p. 74. 2. Quoted in R. B. Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little, Brown, 1935), I, 380. James also calls the novel worthwhile in a letter to Grace Norton: see The Letters of Henry James, ed. Percy Lubbock (New York: Scribner's, 1920), I, 69. 3. I have developed the thesis that the figure in the carpet is the freedomenslavement figure in The Crystal Cage: Adventures of the Imagination in the Fiction of Henry James (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1978). THE HENRY JAMES REVIEW 120 WINTER, 1983 that by warning Wright against Angela he has wronged her; and he soon proposes to her and is accepted. But Wright, learning of the intended marriage, journeys to Paris and, "crazy with disappointment and the bitterness of what [he has] lost" as well as with "the wretchedness of what [he has] found" (Blanche Evers has proved an unsatisfactory wife), he accuses Longueville of falsity—of having taken what is his, Wright's. Longueville protests that he acted in good faith and that, in any case, Wright's marriage to Blanche Evers has erased all chance of Wright's winning Angela back. But Wright will not listen. James winds up the situation, in the manner of the French comic play, by having Angela Vivian persuade Wright that he loves his wife and that Blanche loves him. Wright and Blanche proceed to patch up their marriage and go off for a happy trip to Egypt, as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 120-127
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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