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Henry James and Lillian Hellman: An Unnoted Source by David Leon Higdon, Texas Tech University To date, most sources for LiUian HeUman 's The Little Foxes (1939) have been sought in HeUman's own Ufe. Richard Moody concluded in 1972 that "she dug among the skeletons in her family closet, into the American past in the South that she had known as a child" (75), and the following year, Hellman confirmed that The Little Foxes was "the most difficult play I ever wrote. . . . Some of the trouble came because the play has a distant connection to my mother's family and everything that I had heard or seen or imagined had formed a giant tangled time-jungle in which I could find no space to walk without tripping over old roots, hearing old voices speak about histories made long before my day" (Pentimento 171-72).1 Not aU of these "old voices" were from her family, however; one of them may weU have been that of Henry James, because a key scene in the play bears striking similarities to a scene in James's The American. Regina Giddens' refusal to get her husband's medicine for him when he suffers his fatal attack has become one of the most famous scenes in the American theater, though it takes less than a page and no more than ten brief speeches (The Little Foxes 125-26). In it, Horace Giddens recognizes " the extent of Regina's contempt for him; he sees that his wife is capable of cooUy letting him die. Regina, too, recognizes her Clytemnestra-Uke strength, knowing that, if Horace is dead before he can speak to his lawyer and banker, she finaUy wiU have power over her brothers and the Hubbard wealth. Most of the conflict concerns wealth and power, but an important part of it concerns their daughter , Alexandra, and the contemplated marriage between her and Leo Hubbard, which Horace wishes at aU costs to prevent. The scene epitomizes the triumph of the ruthless , materialistic Hubbard values over the more humane values of the few positive characters in the play—Horace, Alexandra, and Addie. A very similar scene occurs in chapter ΧΧΠof The American. In this chapter, Christopher Newman listens intently as Mrs. Bread unfolds a tale of murder in the De BeUegarde family. The Marquis de BeUegarde, locked in combat with his wife as he attempts to block the marriage of their daughter, Claire, to Monsieur de Cintre, falls iU after a heated argument and takes to his bed. After a succession of doctors pronounce the case virtuaUy hopeless , one doctor discovers "something that gave him great comfort—some white stuff that we kept in a great bottle on the chimney piece" (261). Sent from the bedroom for the evening, Mrs. Bread does not actually see what happens, but before the marquis dies, he tells her, "I am dead. . . I am dead. The marquise has killed me" and gives her a letter (263). Mrs. Bread continues her narrative: "In a few minutes he told me to go and look at the bottle on the chimney-piece. I knew the bottle he meant; the white stuff that was good for his stomach . I went and looked at it, but it was empty" (263). Like the Marquis de BeUegarde , Horace Giddens has had a "great scene" (260) with his wife before he sickens; Uke the Marquis, he requests a trusted female servant to prevent his daughter's marriage to an unworthy man; Uke the Marquis, Horace dies because his wife withholds medicine at a crucial moment; and in both scenes, characters suggest that the illness comes because the man is "paying for his dissipations" (260). James was much on HeUman's mind during the late 1930s. While in Paris, she would "wander around the Rue de la Universite , trying to sort out aU those houses that Stendhal is supposed to have Uved in" (Unfinished Woman 189)—and where, incidentaUy , the De BeUegarde family lives in the James novel. More to the point, Hellman recalls that "only two diaries written at the end of 1938 could convince me now that Watch on the Rhine came out of Henry James. ... I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 134-135
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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