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time to time to turn from monographs like Perosa's to critical studies by non-specialists who, without neglecting the artistic, fill in other dimensions of James and apply other criteria—such studies as Matthiessen's The Major Phase, Newton Arvin's pieces in American Pantheon (1966), the brilliantly ecumenical 1934 "Homage" of Hound and Horn, Lubbock's introduction to the Letters, and W. H. Auden's eloquent evocation "At the Grave of Henry James." Austin Warren The University of Michigan Edward Wagenknecht. Eve and Henry James : Portraits of Women and Girls in His Fiction. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1978. 217 pp. $12.50. The title of Edward Wagenknecht's book might suggest either a thematic or a feminist perspective, but such is not the case. Wagenknecht states in his preface that his interest in James had never been fully articulated in his other critical works, and his choice of the female characters was because of the "fairly general impression" that they "are more interesting than the males." His study reflects, then, both Wagenknecht ' s interest and the interest generated in others over the years and at the same time rejects the possibilities of the "Eve" connection; indeed, the only time the name of Eve comes up is in the title. While it is not a reviewer's role to quarrel with a writer's choice of subject or approach, it does seem puzzling at the very least that Wagenknecht should give such a title to his work when even in his study of novels such as The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl, where the garden imagery is often central to the characterizations of the women, he makes no attempt to explore the mythical implications. He does, however, label his chapters with such designations as "The Victim," "Destiny 'Affronted'," and "Femme Fatale," but even these need not be linked to the Eve myth. Further, Wagenknecht's approach could not accurately be called a feminist one since he makes no effort to present a coherent view of the ways in which James's female characters function within explicit or implicit definitions of the woman's cultural and social roles. major exclusions are ine American ana rne Ampassaaors , wnicn Wagenknecht apparently sees as male-centered, and The Bostonians, for which he offers no explanation other than that he had chosen the 110 New York Edition for his analyses. The structure of each chapter is similar: each begins with an overview of selected past criticism and source material, then moves to Wagenknecht's analysis, often including an assessment of previous commentary. The book's primary value consists of Wagenknecht ' s essentially reasoned view of the female characters, coupled with, paradoxically, his own subjective and impressionistic handling of the material. If a less established or "younger" critic than Wagenknecht tried to execute such maneuvers, there might be stronger resistance, but the charm of the book, as Wagenknecht himself no doubt perceived , is in large part due to the stance of the gentlemanly scholar who has the freedom and flexibility given to those who have achieved the wisdom of age and experience and the benefits of status and reputation. There are, interestingly, several passages in which Wagenknecht offers his reservations about the subjectivity of past critical analyses: for example, when he inserts his own experience of the world (e.g., speaking of The Awkward Age : "If human beings are to be held responsible for everything that results unhappily from well-intentioned advice, then obviously it is not going to be safe for anybody to recommend anything to anyone"); and when he enforces a critical judgment by a comparison with the actions of contemporary society (e.g., as in his comment that critics who are charitable toward James's "bad heroines" and also eager to see the bad in the "good heroines" are similar to "sociologists" who "shed bleedingheart tears over criminals while apparently remaining perfectly indifferent to the sufferings of their victims"). Wagenknecht's reasoned view may be exemplified by his establishing Daisy Miller as an innocent who nevertheless has the insight to see European society as caring more for conformity than corruption, or by his analysis of Madame de Mauves...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 110-112
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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