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The Occult Metaphor as Technique in The Portrait of a Lady by Darlene Harbour Unrue, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Henry James's use of the occult in his fiction has been carefully documented and analyzed in recent years.1 The common and correct conclusion has been that the young James exercised his Interest in the occult by writing ghostly tales that were frankly thrilling amusettes but that as he moved toward realism in the 1880s he gradually bent the occult toward exploring the subtleties of human psychology. During this decade he was also perfecting his concept of the central intelligence, and The Portrait of a Lady (1881) provides especially important insights into both James's emerging method for restricting the viewpoint and his changing use of the occult. Because after 1876 James had begun to fragment the narrative and to suspend moments in time in order to better simulate human thought, The Portrait of a Lady is not a straightforward narrative.2 Within the novel Chapter LXII marks the most radical shift in James's presentation of temporal events and is Itself a form of the Interior monologue that anticipated the later stream-of-consciousness method. In Chapter LXII Isabel ponders her past and present long Into the night, and in the course of her thoughts she faces the truth of her marriage. Her discovery is awesome and terrible, and James conveys her feelings very well with ¡mages and metaphors derived from the preternatural world of the occult. In addition to their thematic use, the images and metaphors function mechanically as well. Highly charged with emotion, they become the bridges between the past and the present as Isabel's mind weaves backward and forward. Because James was consistent in his use of verbs to indicate shifts in time, ¡t ¡s possible to analyze the temporal element of Chapter LXII and to observe the apparent care with which he planned the associations that compelled Isabel's mind to backward and forward motion. An analysis of only a portion of the significant second paragraph in Chapter LXII illustrates the pattern that can be traced throughout the paragraph and indeed throughout the crucial scene. In the chart below, "present" represents a present progressive action seen from Isabel's point of view, an action presented by James's consistent use of the simple past tense. Past action from Isabel's point of view, on the other hand, is presented with but few exceptions by the past perfect tense.3 Italicized words are synonyms, antonyms, repetitions, or variant images that are linked with words that precede or follow. The blocks of time are numbered to facilitate analysis. 1. See, for example, Martha Banta, Henry James and the Occult (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1972); and Elizabeth A. Sheppard, "The Turn of the Screw and the Society for Psychical Research," in Henry James and "The Turn of the Screw" (Bungay, Suffolk: Oxford UnIv. Press, 1974). 2. James discusses his gradual awareness of the "eternal time question" in his preface to Volume I of the New York Edition of his works. 3. Hlsayoshl Watanabe has studied James's use of the past perfect tense ¡n his late fiction, and he observes that James uses the past perfect "precisely in order to explore the reminiscences of his characters"; Watanabe, however, does not treat specifically James's handling of time or his technique of presenting the stream of consciousness. See "Past Perfect Retrospection ¡n the Style of Henry James," American Literature, 34 (1962), 165-81. 199 Relative Time EXCERPT FROM PARAGRAPH TWO, CHAPTER LXII, THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY Text Immed¡ate Past (1) Besides this [the ominous feeling she has that Osmond and Madame Merle are conspirators], her short interview with Osmond half an hour ago was a striking example of his faculty for making everything wither that he touched, spoi I i ng everything for her that he looked at. It was very well to undertake to give him a proof of loyalty; the real fact was that the knowledge of his expecting a thing raised a presumption against it. It was as if he had the evi I eye; as if his presence were a bli...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 199-203
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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