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Henry James's Evasion of Ending in The Golden Bowl by Carol J. Sklenicka The continuous expansion of Maggie Verver's moral experience in The Golden Bowl and her attempt to direct that experience—to, as she puts it, "people [her scene] with serenities and dignities and decencies" rather than "with terrors and shames and ruins"1—are conflicting yet equally compelling motives that persist throughout this novel and that are held in precarious balance at its close. A series of scenes within the closing chapters of Henry James's last completed novel may be read as deliberately failed attempts to contain experience within conventional ending patterns.2 These scenes, like sandbars upon which Maggie stands for a moment with each character in turn, are surrounded by Maggie's newly acquired--but now irreversible--current of moral consciousness. In the final book (Vl) of The Golden Bowl each of the characters is trying desperately to create a closed ending, an ending that contains experience by narrowing what Alan Friedman in The Turn of the Novel defines as the "stream of conscience"^ and by offering a stable, simplified version of the novelistic world. Opposed to their desires for a resolution is a narrative voice that insists--with its arrangement of chapters, style, and explicit and implicit interpretations—upon the impossibility of ending. The moral questions of the novel are translated into new metaphors of art and value, but are not silenced or answered. Charlotte's quavering voice and Adam Verver's straw hat are gone from England but not from Maggie's mind. And Maggie and her Prince are entering a sadder and wiser, but probably not a less complicated, union. The scene which occurs on the final pages of The Golden Bowl is an appropriate stopping place for a book whose morality, as Naomi Lebowitz describes it, is a "morality formed out of the constant exposure of a sensitive character to the possibilities of engagement."^ But it is not a conclusion. Possible but insufficient conclusions have already been attempted and superseded in previous chapters. 1. Henry James, The Golden Bowl (New York: Scribner's, 1922), II, 236, hereafter cited parenthetically. 2. Marianna Torgovnick, in Closure in the Novel (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), offers a comprehensive nomenclature for discussion of structures of novelistic closure as well as a fine chapter on The Golden Bowl. Nonetheless, Alan Friedman's The Turn of the Novel (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), which Torgovnick discredits for its didactic preference for "open" form, makes a distinction that is appropriate to my argument: the "closed" ending presents finished, stabilized characters who are no longer immersed in moral contingencies; the "open" ending emphasizes the inability of characters (whether they be heroes or anti-heroes, perishing or flourishing) to transcend their "disturbing, expanding experiences." 3. Friedman, pp. 3-37. 4. Naomi Lebowitz, The Imagination of Loving (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1965). HENRY JAMES REVIEW 50 FALL, 1982 In a recent issue of this journal David M. Craig also offers an interpretation of the ending of The Golden Bowl (see "The Indeterminacy of the End: Maggie and the Limits of Imagination," The Henry James Review, Winter 1982, pp. 133-44). Before continuing my essay, I should like to distinguish it somewhat from Mr. Craig's. On the whole I think his essay and mine differ in complementary ways, taking different paths to reach similar conclusions. Mr. Craig's analysis begins earlier in the novel and focuses on its imagery, while mine concentrates on the dramatic effects of the three concluding chapters. Mr. Craig is particularly interested in the development of Maggie's consciousness in the second part of The Golden Bowl, whereas I, taking that expanded consciousness for granted, am seeking to display the series of ending-like scenes in which Maggie acts. Above all I wish to emphasize the impossibility of a closed ending for this novel as a positive achievement on James's part, rather than as a failure to handle the difficult materials of his story. Because Mr. Craig maintains his focus upon Maggie's consciousness through the end of his essay, I am unable to say whether he would endorse my defense of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 50-60
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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