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Anarchism and Gender: James's The Princess Casamassima and Conrad's The Secret Agent by Eileen Sypher, George Mason University Recent neo-marxist criticism, accepting post-structuralist challenges to mimesis and its criticism of texts as organic wholes, has continued to argue for the existence of history and for literature's having a discoverable relationship to it. Within this marxism, inspired by Louis Althusser, history is not visible in its totality in the literary text (as the later Lukács of "The Ideology of Modernism" would have it). Rather, history is the "absent cause" that can only be theorized from its effects.1 The critic's job, then, is not the later Lukácsian one of evaluating which texts represent some visible totality of history most accurately, but rather one of interpreting history symptomatically from the traces it leaves in the text. Furthermore, in this newer marxism the "text" is not defined as an organic whole, the model Lukács uses, but rather as "heterogeneous" or "schizophrenic," as constituted of absences as well as presences, of margins as well as a center.2 This newer marxism, though given substantial formation by Pierre Macherey, Terry Eagleton, and Fredric Jameson, is yet in its infancy. A reading of The Princess Casamassima and The Secret Agent, two texts that attempt to contain the disruptive forces of anarchism and sexuality, will help demonstrate the power of the new marxism both to explore the texts' discontinuities and to interpret the particular historical moment that produced them—in this case turn-of-the-century England. This interpretation of James's and Conrad's novels will also attend to a critical absence in this theory and its practice to date: gender relations.3 This recent marxist theory distinguishes what a text attempts to say, its "project," from what it actually says, its "product" (to use Macherey's terms). The text's project is ideological: to attempt to explain, contain, or, in Jameson's borrowing from Norman Holland, "manage" an historical, social and political problem in order to "diffuse it" or provide "substitute gratifications." In the product emerge the very impulses that the project tries to contain or diffuse. In other words, the text inadvertently reveals that "management" is at work, that various strategies abound that attempt to contain contradictions (see Jameson 53). Ideology itself, in its will toward closure, always denies the problematic, contradictory, and unbounded territory of history. The text's internal framing of ideology, however, encourages the reader not only to observe that strategies of containment are at work, but also to theorize these strategies as a "production" of a particular historical moment.4 2 The Henry James Review The following reading of The Princess Casamassima and The Secret Agent argues that these novels attempt to manage the spectre of political upheaval by telescoping it onto marginal anarchists whose "real" stories are imputed to be domestic in character.5 Using the conventions of the domestic novel, where gender relations implicitly account for and even circumscribe larger political behavior, these novels' projects at least gesture toward containing the threat of anarchism by invoking the mid-Victorian concept of woman as a metonym for affection, social stability, and culture against which the destructive quests of the male characters can be measured and explained. Yet this project founders. The product reveals that "woman" is a ruse. The female is being invoked not as an individual but as an "Other," as a vehicle for collecting otherwise unmanageable fears and desires. This is particularly evident through her contradictory functions in the novels. The woman as angel is also, inadvertently, the failed woman: the femme fatale, the terrible mother (Winnie); the unfaithful wife (the Princess).6 Their failures can be read as inciting the males' anarchist acts. What these novels suggest is that though the mid-Victorian angel of the hearth has not yet been entirely killed, as a cultural myth she has already lost her effectiveness in managing political contradictions. The social ideal of the angel is in the process of being supplanted by a new concept of woman, what came to be called at this time the "new woman." This "new woman" challenged earlier notions about the sanctity of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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