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Rereading Henry James Rereading Robert Browning: "The Novel in The Ring and the Book" by Williem E. Buckler, New York University Students of Browning heve generally been unpersuaded by what they perceive as Henry James's suggestions for rewriting The Ring and the Book. Admitting Jemes's lecture -essey to be e "clessic of enthusiestic epprecietion," Altick end Loucks essert thet "it tells us more ebout James's view of the art of the novel than it does ebout the poem" (364).1 Mery Rose Sulliven elso recognizes the feme of the essey, but, in e curious misreeding of Jemes's lenguege end stretegy, she speeks of his seeing the center of the poem "es 'the embracing consciousness of Caponsecchi'" end rejects Jemes's elleged view, concluding thet "Jemes here seems to be thinking less of Browning's poem then of the novel he himself cen project from it" (84-85n.). In his essey, Jemes wes doing something e good deel more creetively interesting end criticelly significent then such views, though custom ery, ecknowledge or even seem to perceive. He wes peying Browning the highest, most imeginetive compliment one distinguished writer cen pey to enother—thet of employing, consciously end enthusiesticelly end effectively , the other's "fevourite system"; end in the process he wes building en integreted criticel view of Browning's mejor work thet, efter elmost three-querters of e century end several criticel revolutions, still hes considerable merit end usefulness. I "The Novel in The Ring end the Book" is e dremetic monologue in prose in which Jemes ectuelly observes two of Browning's fundementel poetic rubrics: to "tell e truth/ Obliquely, do the thing shell breed the thought,/Nor wrong the thought, missing the mediete word" (Browning, The Ring end the Book ΧΠ. 855-57) end, es Browning seys in his letter of dedicetion prefixed to Sordello, to trece en incident "in the development of e soul" (,45.). Jemes's speeker elso hes the dremetic monologuist's keen sense of eudience, requiring their perticipetion in the evolution of the piece, end one of the fescineting espects of the essey is wetching him meneuver for e new footing es en old footing is dissolved by the process of criticel enelysis thet he pursues. The essey is β reletively short piece, some 7,000 words structured es fifteen peregrephs. Thus it epproximates the length of Browning's best-known substantiel monologues. Like Browning's poems, too, it focuses on one unifying issue (in this cese, the issue of unity itself) thet induces the speeker, in his efforts to enlerge end enrich this focel issue with e circumspection, euthority , end rhetoric eppropriete to his eudience (here the Acedemic Committee of the Royel Society of Literature), to exemine the severel subtheses inherent in his primery thesis end to glence briefly in the direction of verious subjects more or less tengentiel to the focel issue itself. As in Browning's rich, dynemic, reeder-perticipetory monologues, the externel or formuleic dreme (e speeker eddressing e sophisticeted eudience to whose responsiveness he must be ecutely elert) hes an internal or organic counterpart (a visible movement of the performing psyche or "soul" from one view of the matter et hend to quite β different view of it). In this perticuler cese—as often, too, in Browning—the drametic movement is redemptive , but the criticel test to be epplied is not psychic direction (redemption versus herdened self-deception end misdirection), but psychic credibility. Jemes hes chosen to subject criticism to creation, to convert a critical ergument into an imeginetive experience, end this elters dremeticelly the critene we epply to it. Jemes orders his eddress by peragrephs , perhaps even by enelogy with verseperegrephs . In the first peragraph, the speeker uses e "comprehensive imege" to describe the "clustered hugeness or inordiVolume V 135 Number 2 The Henry James Review Winter, 1984 nate muchness" of The Ring end the Book, imprinting on the eudience's imegmetion the vision of e vest "gothic . . . structure, spreeding end soering end brenching et such β rate, covering such ground, putting forth such pinnacles and towers and brave excrescences . . ." The elabórete word-picture, especielly when vocelized, exectly cetches the tone with which the speeker wents to begin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 135-145
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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