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The Archaeology of Ancient Rome: Sexual Metaphor in "The Beast in the Jungle" by James Ellis, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Henry James's relationship with the American writer and grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper, Constance Fenimore Woolson, has been examined in detail by Leon Edel, who demonstrates very convincingly this relationship as the biographical source for "The Beast in the Jungle." James, in London, was overwhelmed by the death of this "close and valued friend" with whom, he was to write later, "[he] was extremely intimate and to whom [he] was greatly attached" (HJL RI). He immediately made plans to leave London for the funeral in Rome, but then just as suddenly canceRed his passage when he discovered that hers was no accidental death but rather a suicide. Edel describes James's feelings as a combination of grief, horror, pity and "a feeling that in some way he too had responsibility for her last act" (The Middle Years 358). Two months later, however , James was able to go to Venice and to assist Fenimore's sister, Clara Woolson Benedict, in settling the estate. Late in May, 1894, James left Venice to make a pilgrimage to Fenimore's grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome—a pilgrimage that he would repeat thirteen years later in 1907. James would continue to mull over Fenimore Woolson's death and the degree to which he may have contributed to it until finaRy in 1903 he published "The Beast in the Jungle," having arrived at an artistic rendering of this episode of his middle years. Leon Edel sees this story as a turning point for Henry James, writing: "And so, into this strange and haunted story, James translated universal symbols of the riddle of man's life, his struggle against annihilation and anonymity, his belief that love alone makes existence possible and preserves man from the dark abyss. In its use of myth, its mood of desolation, its portrait of alienated man, it is perhaps James's most 'modern' tale" (The Master 139). Criticism of the story has concentrated on the psychological state of John Marcher and the means by which Henry James embodied that state. In his early and very interesting—not the least because Jamesian in manner—treatment of May Bertram as John Marcher's ficelle and hallucination, David Kerner remarks on two aspects of the story that wiH stand further discussion. Kerner notes that "the reader who looks for it finds the story studded with sexual imagery" and then later describes John Marcher as holding a conception "of the self ... so grandiose" that he will settle for nothing less than "to be author of himself " (114, 117). Courtney Johnson, some years later, also addressed the sexual nature of "The Beast in the Jungle," calling it a story of "frustrated romantic love: more specificaRy , it is about frustrated sexual love" (121). Writing of John Marcher's inability to "engage himself" with "the Sphinx as it is analogous to and a projection of his own inner Beast," Johnson says, "This reticence corresponds to the overt fear Marcher has of marriage and the sexual act" (133). But if the sexual is important for an understanding of the story, so also is the Roman background indicated by Henry James in his references to the Palace of the Caesars and to the ancient city of Pompeii . Courtney Johnson notes Pompeii, "where people are buried alive," and then says that this symbol "refers to buried memory, the burial of the past, and the burial of hidden potential, of love" (128). William Nance remarks on "Marcher's heroic aspirations" as they are revealed in his remembering incorrectly that he and May had met at the Palace of the Caesars, and then Nance goes on to note May's correction to Pompeii, saying that Pompeii suggests "not greatness, . . . but hoHowness, premature death are the discoveries Marcher wiR make" (434). How do these references to the Palace of the Caesars and to Pompeii make a Volume VI 27 Number 1 The Henry James Review FaR, 1984 comment upon the relationship of John Marcher and May Bartram? Charles Anderson has addressed this question of object and character, noting that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 27-31
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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