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Studies in American Fiction229 Walton, Priscilla L. The Disruption of the Feminine in Henry James. Toronto, Buffalo: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1992. 187 pp. Cloth: $40.00. Priscilla Walton's The Disruption of the Feminine in Henry James is an eloquent and welcome addition to the growing number of recent books which have used contemporary theory to illuminate James' project. Examining representations of the Feminine in James' early novels, short stories, and novels of the "Major Phase," Walton offers an engaging feminist post-structuralist reading of the ways in which James' texts subvert their Realist and Masculine nineteenth-century ideology. Pointing out that James' works become increasingly subversive, Walton asserts that "where the early texts comprise efforts to confine and grasp the Feminine Other, the later works implicitly recognize and delight in its fecundity" (p. 163). Her thesis is best served by her readings of the late novels, in which she demonstrates that James' narratives embrace Feminine plurality, resist closure, and defy "Realist Masculine searches for singular meaning" (p. 103). For Walton, these texts "in their polyvocality" at last "become Feminine creations themselves" (p. 160). Drawing on the writings of Derrida, Irigaray, Cixoux, and Kristeva, Walton uses their constructions of "the Feminine" and "the Masculine" to interrogate James' mode of realism. The Feminine is associated with absence, uncertainty, the abyss, unknowability , otherness, and plurality. It is, in short, out of control and in need of policing by the Masculine. The Masculine is associated with presence, closure, accessibility, singular meaning, and referential coherence. The Masculine polices, controls, and stabilizes what is otherwise unruly. This interdependent relationship between the Masculine and the Feminine is obviously crucial to Walton's argument. As she perceptively notes: "the crisis in James, that split between the text's conscious referential project and its subversion of it, points to the plurality of language, for it results from the texts' reliance upon absence to invoke presence, and the absence, or the space of the Feminine, becomes the source of the textual multiplicity" (pp. 32—33). Walton is interested in charting the evolution in James's canon toward "the space of the Feminine." In Roderick Hudson, for example, she maintains that James endorses a nineteenth-century "Realist/humanist ideology whose patriarchal mandates are dependent upon the submission of women" (p. 38). In his short stories, James moves from "efforts to denigrate and control Feminine 'presence' into endeavours that grant priority to Feminine unknowability" (p. 100). Walton's reading of "In the Cage" is particularly graceful, focusing as it does on how art, creativity, and knowledge come from the margin or the marginalized and not from the center. This analysis provides a useful transition to the last three chapters of the book, which deal with The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl. According to Walton, these novels overtly subvert "the Realist concept of knowability " (p. 100). Her analysis of The Ambassadors lends impressive support to this contention. Critiquing the different readers and modes of reading Lambert Strether is exposed to, Walton describes Mrs. Newsome as "a proponent of Realist/humanist reading," Maria Gostrey as "an intermediary figure who teaches Strether to decipher, but to decipher in a way which promotes misreadings," and Madame de Vionnet as someone who "personifies the open text, which she then helps Strether to interpret plurally" (p. 105). Strether's ultimate embrace of multiplicity, then, must be seen in terms of his lessons in reading. His renunciation at the end of the novel is not seen as a moral victory, but rather as "a testament to the power and the fecundity of Feminine multiplicity" (p. 119): "to choose nothing is to choose absence and the plurality which it engenders. Because Strether realizes that meaning cannot be confined or deciphered, he chooses openness when he chooses nothing" (p. 118). Walton's analysis of Feminine reading, writing, and revision in James' The 230Reviews Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl respectively is important and provocative. Her book will be remembered for the insights in these chapters. Occasionally in these chapters I found her references to other critics excessive and a bit distracting, but given the acumen of her own readings of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 229-230
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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