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BOOK REVIEWS social and economic history as well as the chronicle of the sales of Lawrence's manuscripts. James Gindin University of Michigan The Feminine Absence Priscilla L. Walton. The Disruption of the Feminine in Henry James. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992. viii + 179pp. $40.00 THE CONCEPTS of absence and presence in the characters, plot or language of a text are at present important considerations, not only in literary criticism, but in religious and philosophical thought. Ralph Harper's On Presence (1991), although written by a rector, sees "Presence " among such non-religious writers as Marcel Proust, and George Steiner's Real Presences (1989) also shows the range of thinking about this entity. Actually, it has had a history of more than one hundred years in creative writing, for Victorien Sardou's La Famille Benoîton (1865) was distinguished for the mother of the family who never appears on the stage, but whose presence is always felt by all the other members of the family. James's Mrs. Newsome in The Ambassadors is supposed to have been influenced by this character. Affirmation by negation, another name for absence and presence, has been noted in Rilke, continuing in von Hoffmansthal, and on to Thomas Bernhard, the aesthetique of whose tragi-comedic novels are complete exercises in opposing absence to presence. Perhaps Samuel Beckett encapsulates the dialogue between both absence and presence in his line, "Said nohow on"—absence and presence thus extended from nihilism to positivism in one breadth. So literary criticism has tangled with these opposites long before today. Hemingway's style, in which omission of certain words puts into relief their expected presence because of their absence, demonstrates occasions for summoning absence and presence. Today, the dichotomous twins have become an important part of literary analysis used by the post-structuralists. Priscilla Walton's book applies this concept and combines it with the "Masculine RealisVReferential construct," characterized by the circumscription of the text, and "the Feminine/Other," identified by absence and multiplicity of reference within the text. These concepts are a fusion of the tenets of Mary Cross, especially of Derrida's OfGrammatology, of Josue Harari, Wolfgang Iser, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. The exercise is clever and it passes the test on two levels: that of clarity of 125 ELT 36 : 1 1993 exposition in its theoretical assumptions and that of producing convincing examples from the work of Henry James to justify it. Yet one has certain reservations. Any demonstration without explanation will conform to the definition of absence (or omission) and James's attempt to demonstrate without explanation, antedating Hemingway's use of omission, is a purely authorial decision. The current post-structuralist elimination of the author and the acknowledgment of the text only means that the willed removal of certain textual matter by the fictional aesthetique of the author is now denied. This reminds one of the gold, spatially flat background that occurred when Byzantine art got rid of perspective in the paintings of Greece and Rome of the classical periods. This handling of pictorial space had to be won all over again in the West by Giotto and Masaccio. In like fashion, scholars will some day resurrect the creative capability of the author now that the text has been unmoored from its originating base. Walton's introduction attempts to show how The Turn of the Screw undercuts its own supposed Realist reading since it generates indeterminacies and contradictions that disrupt that reading of it. What Walton 's book does reveal is how often in James's pluralistic universe the word "text" and the metaphor of reading occur, as well as the notions of absence and presence. She could fortify her position by referring to the superb passage in The American Scene where absence and presence are magnificently related in James's visit to Farmington, Connecticut. Because Walton is supported by apt quotations, her study reveals aspects of James's work which we have not been aware of, since his prose is so dense and his figurative language so varied. Walton begins her analysis chronologically with Roderick Hudson where the project is Realist and women function as the Other, the "unknowable," especially in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 125-127
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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