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Correspondence To the Editor: I would like to present a chaUenge to other critics who have, like me, forecast as part of their critical future a feminist reworking of the Jamesian canon. The 1984 MLA James Society Session on "Feminist Attitudes to Henry James" marks this as an important time for such revision. I have argued earlier in the Henry James Review that James's best Edwardian comedies—The High Bid and The Outcry— stand as a testament to the possibilities of the comic form. This is especially true in The High Bid where Mrs. Gracedew, James's more-than-equal heroine, is capable of great feats of understanding, control, love, and salvation. Almost single-handedly, in fact, she saves a crumbling house and its deteriorating British society. Arguing, it seems, for James himself, Mrs. Gracedew pleads for Covering End, the British house in danger, but also—and more importantly— for all it symbolizes: You must have beauty in your life, don't you see?—that's the only way to make sure of it for the lives of others. Keep leaving it to them, to aU the poor others, and heaven only knows what wiU become of it ! Although the terms of her victory can be questioned, Mrs. Gracedew succeeds in saving Covering End and its British society while also ensuring her own happiness. James's dramatic comedies are full of heroines with similar powers and victories. But with Mrs. Gracedew, James also makes clear that his women's roles as outsiders account for their precious power; he shows how a special need for preserving a system of makeshift equality has sharpened women 's social prowess. James shows as gracefully and subtly as any comic dramatist I know that a woman's power in comedy comes only at a great price. But this analysis of Mrs. Gracedew's power teUs only part of her story. By accepting George Meredith's link between sexual equality and comedy, I can easily praise James's morethan -equal women. A different part of Mrs. Gracedew's story becomes clear, however, when her power is analyzed in the context of feminist criticism. Let me suggest such a context with a brief digression. James's heroines, especially those in his fiction, have always been a main focus of critical attention. His women have been so praised through the years that James studies seems hardly to have been disturbed by the often violent revisions recent feminist criticism has offered for much of our literature. In fact, in this era of feminist criticism, James and his women have earned more praise than condemnation . In Judith Fetterly's The Resisting Reader, for example, a chapter on The Bostonians provides a positive (if radical) reading of James in a critical work otherwise hostile to a "male tradition" of American fiction. Similarly, Richard Hocks, in his centennial essay on Daisy Miller, begins with a supportive account of the feminist response of his students to Daisy Miller, and Sara deSaussure Davis recounts feminist sources for The Bostonians. Both critics do so without seeming to do anything out of the ordinary in James criticism. Even the more obviously feminist readings of James by Nancy MiHer, Dorothy Berkson, and Nina Bay m seem generally at home in James criticism. In fact, what we would now caU feminist readings of James have always been present in some form. Various readings of Daisy Miller, The Bostonians, and The Portrait of a"Lady, for example, have recently explicitly announced themselves as feminist, but conclude little differently from the only implicitly feminist readings of James's writings that have been with us for years. While some hostility to feminist readings of James surfaces from time to time, such negative response is rare. Critics could conclude from all of this that feminist study of James's work is an accomplished fact. I do not find this to be the case. I would like to suggest, further, that many more valuable feminist revisions of James are yet to come. Volume VI 71 Number 1 The Henry James Review FaU,1984 Consider the parallel case of Shakespeare studies. Both Shakespeare and James have been praised for their sympathetic portraits of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 71-74
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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