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Nicola Bradbury. Henry James: The Later Novels. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979. 228 pp. $39.00 ~~ Henry James: The Later Novels begins with the questions "Why do we read James? And how?" Clearly, Nicola Bradbury addresses these fundamental questions not to timid and inexperienced readers of James, but to those already deeply committed, already comfortable with the intricacies of the late novels, and familiar with the critical disputes that surround them. The method of reading that Bradbury encourages is an especially intense kind of close reading, wherein rhetoric and style are the primary determinants of meaning as well as the primary sources of interest for the reader. In her relentless and often masterful analyses of language, Bradbury certainly elucidates The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl, but in exposing and seeking to clarify the nuances of Jamesian discourse she also reveals a Henry James more difficult—that is subtler and more complex—than even an expert student of the late fiction may have suspected. To Bradbury even the oddest and most labyrinthine passages of The Golden Bowl are not to be regarded as eccentric or even particularly mannered; to the contrary, the baroque images, the contorted syntax, the clichés, the Johnsonian cadences, the hesitations, the parenthetical elements, and various other characteristics of the late style are entirely functional, organic, and subtly revealing. Primarily they are the ingenious techniques of irony, ambiguity, and indirect revelation. To illustrate Bradbury's method, I quote about half of her commentary on the first sentence of The Wings of the Dove: in the very first sentence, a simple inversion in the opening clause, the use of a pronoun followed by its reference in apposition, mimes Kate's impatience and the check of self-control; but it also, apparently incidentally, invites the reader to enter a bond of superior knowledge with the author, offering a compliment on his understanding: 'She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in • ' James plays on the attitude invoked in his first sophisticated nod to the reader. Kate's father kept her 'unconscionably': the word, we suppose, is her own, though it also seems to be the narrator's, invoking Austenian echoes of an age of decorum and predictable sentiment for the novel reader. Though it may hint Mr. Croy's lack of scruples, the main force of the adverb is in its pedantic, archaic tone. From this note, the irritable precision of diction increases, gradually converging the 'complimentary' authorial reliance on the reader's intelligence into a functional trust, necessary to the rendering of Kate's mood. The syntactic sequence is broken by parenthesis, weighted with a change of tense. . . . The shift from the decorum of 'unconscionably', through the alliterative intensity of 'positively pale', to the phrase 'to the point', which will be picked up in the next sentence's 'It was at this point', is no decorative play, but a manipulation of the reader's reactions between various different modes. The dazzling virtuosity of this exercise in creative reading makes Ian Watt's investigation of the first paragraph of The Ambassadors by comparison seem crude and obvious. Even more astonishing than the subtle attention she pays to James's linguistic delicacies—all of which, in her readings, are important — is that more often than not her readings are uncannily persuasive. THE HENRY JAMES REVIEW 146 WINTER, 1983 But—as must be inevitable—some of the detailed elaborations of James's sentences are forced and come close to reducing to absurdity the operative principle that every linguistic, syntactic, and semantic peculiarity must be laced with significance. Thus in a two-page commentary on two sentences in The Wings of the Dove Bradbury finds "ominous signs" of Kate's confused attitude toward Densher Tn such stylistic and grammatical "errors" as "an emphatic statement ugly in its concluding particle and . . . the complementary use of a plural and a singular noun." The part of a sentence so interpreted is "his long looks were the thing in the world she could never have enough of." Bradbury equates the kind of analysis she undertakes ("the reading process ") with the major effect James sought to achieve in his late novels. Her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 146-148
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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