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The Idea of "Too Late" in James's "The Beast in the Jungle" by Michael Coulson Berthold, Harvard University At the end of Henry James's "The Beast in the Jungle," it is the sad irrevocability of "what might have been" that strikes the tale's most haunting and impassioned chords. The beast springs on Marcher at the grave of May Bartram, and "gazing at the sounded void of his life," he realizes with a sickening bitterness that "she was what he had missed."! James had considered this idea of "too late" in earlier works but, I wish to show, fundamentally redefined it when he wrote "The Beast in the Jungle." Subsequently, I want to argue that James's sense of the inherent tragedy of "too late" is deeply rooted in his reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne; James, however, painstakingly refined the idea and finally employed it as a formalistic arbitrator of the contest between art and life. The idea of "too late," salient in "The Beast in the Jungle," appeared in more muted tones in earlier of James's works. At the end of Washington Square, for example, Catherine Sloper snubs Morris Townsend when he returns to offer her his friendship a score of years after he has broken their engagement--it is too late for him to effect a reconciliation. Ih "The Aspern Papers" the narrator 's tardy decision to marry Miss Tina to acquire the papers in question coincides , ironically, with her burning of them. The "too late" theme in these stories, however, is less an expression of tragic personal loss than of implacability in the case of Catherine and of disappointment and resignation in the case of the narrator of "The Aspern Papers." It was Minnie Temple, primarily, who provided James with his sense of "too late" in the fiction that preceded "The Beast in the Jungle," and her memory informs both Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. After her untimely death, she presided in James's mind as a standard of sweetness, light, and youthful buoyancy and became for him, as Dupee notes, an emblem of mortality, a "symbol of all kinds of beautiful lost things."2 James's apotheosis of her suggests an anchoring of intense life in death, or an interpénétration of the two, and both Isabel Archer and Daisy Miller are patterned after Minnie Temple, enacting the same drama of the extinction of an exquisite vitality. Dreaming of freedom and nobleness, Isabel Archer finds herself ground in the very mill of the conventional. With a brisk but naive egotism, she prizes a personal liberty that proves to be illusory, but by the time this lesson is learned, she is already a doomed spirit. As Arnold Kettle comments, Isabel deliberately rejects life at the end of the novel in favor of death, as represented by the situation in Rome.3 The circumstances in Daisy Miller more closely resemble those of "The Beast in the Jungle"--Winterbourne's realization that he miscon1 . Henry James, "The Beast in the Jungle" (New York: Scribner's, 1909), p. 125, hereafter cited parenthetically as BJ. 2. F. W. Dupee, Henry James (1951; rpt. New York: Morrow, 1974), p. 38. 3. Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel (London: Brendon, 1953), II, 30. THE HENRY JAMES REVIEW 128 WINTER, 1983 strued Daisy and failed to reciprocate her affections prefigures Marcher's lament over May's tomb. Daisy's innocence and élan glitter for Winterbourne only when she has died; as was true for James and Minnie Temple, the death of the girl confirms the radiance, and even the sacredness, of her life. A passage from James's Notebooks in 1895 is especially crucial in his development of the idea of "too late." But curiously, when he asked himself, "What is there in the idea of Too late—of some friendship or passion or bond— some affection long desired and waited for, that is formed too late,"4 he seemed to be encountering the idea for the first time. There are, certainly, several fundamental differences between James's earlier and later versions of "too late." As the Notebooks passage suggests, in "The Beast in the Jungle...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 128-139
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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