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Homotextual Duplicity in Henry James's The Pupil" 44' Helen Hoy, University of Minnesota In her recent Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has a wonderfully disconcerting moment in which she invokes familiar reactionary resistance to diversifying the literary canon ("has there yet been a Socrates of the Orient, an African-American Proust, a female Shakespeare?") in the context of lesbian and gay studies: Has there ever been a gay Socrates? Has there ever been a gay Shakespeare? Has there ever been a gay Proust? "Does the Pope wear a dress?" she concludes, dramatizing by these initially unrecognized tautologies the degree to which homosexuality has been erased within what she aptly calls the academic monoculture (Sedgwick 53). It is within this context that I would like to consider the pleasures of reading Henry James's 1891 short story "The Pupil" as a "homotext," to revive a term Jacob Stockinger coined in 1978 (138-39), the pleasures of a potentially subversive strategy of reading.1 I must begin by problematizing the term "homotext" itself. Stockinger does not define the delimiters of "homotexts"—by implication the texts written by homosexuals—attending instead to some of their characteristic features: fluid structures of transformational identity, with the mirror as a central trope; the text itself as ultimate homotextual mirror with its multiple and labyrinthine narrative; textual space simultaneously of alienation and protection, displacement and mobility ; homosexual intertextuality; and so on. But the identification of writers as homosexual is itself vexatious, and such a delimiter risks premature exclusions at best. Rather than restricting the concept of homotextuality to works by known lesbian/homosexual writers or even extending it to all those by presumed, closeted, suspected (or latent?) lesbian/homosexual writers (especially when such essentialist or reductive taxonomies are under scrutiny), I prefer instead to apply it more pragmatically to all texts in which attention to issues of same-sex sexual orientation proves meaningful, profitable, or provocative.2 (Concomitantly, I would The Henry James Review 14 (1993): 34-42 © by The Johns Hopkins University Press Homotextual Duplicity in ' 'The Pupil' ' 35 argue for the parallel term ' 'heterotextuality' '—which Stockinger mentions only as a redundancy underlining the heterosexist bias of literary studies [138]. This would avoid establishing heterosexuality as the unmarked norm and would highlight the element of sexual construction in writings generally.)3 James himself presumably does not require my extension of the range of "homotext," since the biographical evidence, while not conclusive, is sufficiently intriguing to provoke a consideration of his work as homotextual.4 Sedgwick, for example, describes him as one "in whose life the pattern of homosexual desire was brave enough and resilient enough to be at last biographically inobliterable" (197). The relative paucity of attention given to this aspect of his texts, though, given the size of the James critical industry, suggests how much remains to be done even with authors whom Sedgwick calls, for reasons of biography, "emboldening figures" (195).5 The possibilities for invigorating new readings of less obvious ' 'homotexts' ' is exhilarating .6 To consider Henry James's story "The Pupil" as a "homotext" is not unprecedented, though it has been done only glancingly.7 Most entertaining is Edward Wagenknecht's relieved assertion in 1984 that "In days gone by, some readers were given to sniffing out homosexuality in the relations between Pemberton and his charge; this nonsense seems now to have been abandoned, the favorite form subtlety [which he also deplores] has taken these latter days being to make Pemberton responsible for Morgan's death" (60). Leon Edel in the biography raises, only to discount, the possibility that the story's unexpected rejection by The Atlantic Monthly might have been motivated by "the possible hint of unconscious homosexuality in the attachment of tutor and boy" (100). He goes on to argue that such affectionate relationships were taken for granted in the Victorian age, prior to the Oscar Wilde trial. Georges-Michel Sarotte provides useful information on changes to the text between its serial publication in Longman's and its reprinting in The Lessons of the Master the following year: James apparently deleted the phrase "he had never loved him so" from the scene in which Pemberton takes his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 34-42
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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