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As an aid to understanding James's life and works, The Crystal Cage is indispensable. In keeping with its detached outlook, it is a short work, its style is simple, and its author's ego is offstage throughout; one hopes that it will not be neglected for works that are flashier and full of error. No doubt The Crystal Cage is read best under the conditions which Isabel prescribed for herself: in "a cool bath in a marble tank, in a darkened chamber, in a hot land." David Kirby Florida State University Mary Doyle Springer. A Rhetoric of Literary Character: Some Women of Henry James. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1978. 248 pp. $17.00. This learned and engaging book deals with a long-neglected aspect of James's work: the functions of minor female characters in the novellas and the rhetoric requisite to their task. The author centers her discussion on the "rhetorical making of characters" through descriptive diction, speech, and action, which achieve a certain power to affect the reader (p. 201). Basing her study on Aristotle's Poetics, Professor Springer defines literary character as "an artificial construct drawn from, and relatively imitative of, people in the real world." The formal function and behavior of the character are determined by the "governing principle of the whole work" (p. 14). Character is revealed in an action, which in turn characterizes the particular form (mimetic or didactic) of the literary work. James's particular contribution to modern fiction was the conversion of "plot suspense" into "character suspense, which often was his very plot." The full revelation of his characters frequently occurs only at the end of the fiction, "and the characters gain greatly in dignity and importance thereby." In fact, some of his outwardly insignificant characters have only their own "immense human importance" to go on (pp. 70-71). Four functions of minor characters in the novellas are: the suppressed character (Kate Cookham in "The Bench of Desolation"); the "extra" character (Aunt Penniman in Washington Square and Flora in The Turn of the Screw) ; character as frame (Alice Staverton in "The Jolly Corner"); and character in apologue (Lady Barbarina; the Countess and Scholastica in "Benvolio"). The organic function of each character in the rhetoric of the coherent whole determines her importance in the given work. The suppressed character, James's peculiar invention, is the one who emerges for the reader in the consciousness of the protagonist, who in "The Bench of Desolation" is Herbert Dodd. We see Kate Cookham change completely as Dodd grows in his understanding of the woman who really loves him beyond his former 105 comprehension. The author refers in passing to the secondary characters in The Ambassadors, led by the formidable Mrs. Newsome. In both the novel and the novella, the key rhetorical device is the limitation of our view to that of the protagonist. Far from being a mere trick, this device maintains^our respect for the protagonist as he laboriously pieces together fragments of truth. The best of these chapters are the discussions of The Turn of the Screw and "Benvolio." Here, the reader experiences something of that excitement of discovery that the author analyzes so well in James. The former tale, so fully debated for decades, has preserved its enigma despite the controversies. Flora, indeed, holds some of that mysteriousness. This "extra" character fulfills James's rhetorical purpose to show through the child's revulsion from the governess the magnitude of harm this deluded person has exerted on the children. Flora and Mrs. Grose's departure increases our fears for the safety of Miles under the pressure of "his eternal governess." At this point it also becomes clear why "there was no need to call her by any other name" (p. 106). "Benvolio," a little-known work, is an apologue. The ambiguity of ideals confronting the poet is reflected in the ambivalent rhetoric of character. The Countess, representing worldly life at its fullest, forms a vivid contrast to Scholastica, the lady of retired, intellectual pursuits. Numerous rhetorical devices combine to enhance the differences between these two ways of life . But the two women are not allegorical figures, for neither the life of the world...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 105-107
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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