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SHEILA TEAHAN The American's Double-Cross I RiTics have recurrently perceived The American as ex- 'hibiting an uneasy alliance of, or division between, realism and romance. This persistent sense of the novel's generic split or discontinuity has celebrated precedent in James's preface, which acknowledges its ultimate "revolution" or "deflexion" from realism and speculates that its author "had been plotting arch-romance without knowing it" (Art 31, 30, 25). The classic modern articulation of this view is to be found in Peter Brooks' justly influential reading in "The Turn of The American ," which both extends and critiques the long-standing critical intuition of the text's heterogeneous or incompatible novelistic modes. Of the notorious shift in its final third from realistic social comedy to a melodramatic or gothic register, Brooks observes that The American "changes radically in tone and mode at the moment of Christopher Newman's betrayal by the Bellegardes. . . . What has up to this point been largely a social comedy, broad, amused, generally good-natured, suddenly calls forth the emotional conditions and the vocabulary of melodrama, unleashing a new and heightened drama for which the reader had scarcely been prepared, one that alters the very stakes of the text" (43).1 Brooks' account of the novel's generic turn aligns realism and romance with a range ofthematic categories—freedom versus determination , novelty versus convention, openness versus closure, liberation versus claustration—that are borrowed from The American itself. Brooks observes that James's presentation of the Bellegardes, who occupy the novel's romantic or melodramatic register, "insists upon their unfreedom , their representative fixity, their determination by assigned, inherited identities." The novel is thus organized by a thematic "struggle be- ?????a Quarterly Volume 53, Number 4, Winter 1997 Copyright © 1997 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 148Sheila Teahan tween fixity and freedom" exemplified by the Bellegardes and by Newman respectively (^).2 In his view, the generic incoherence that has perplexed so many critics may be explained by Newman's contradictory ontological status as a realistic character in a melodramatic plot. As Brooks puts it, "if Newman simply plays the role of free agent in a preordained script, he necessarily comes to be simply representative of a certain social stance. He is not, in this context, the one who can rewrite the script, break open the closure" (59). Despite this generic contradiction, die novel's "troublesome turn" to a melodramatic or gothic mode is transcended, for Brooks, by an ultimate re-turn that internalizes and elevates Bellegardian melodrama into "the intensity of moral choice, the assertion that true melodrama is interior, that it resides in the dramas of consciousness" (46). By renouncing the melodramatically coded opportunity for revenge offered by the Marquis' deathbed accusation against his wife and son, Newman returns The American to a realistic register that Brooks recognizes as truer to James's artistic intentions. Ifthe novel's oscillations between generic registers enacts a self-reflexive allegory ofJames's hesitation among "different available forms of 'the novelistic,'" Newman's final choice signifies an arrival at the "properly Jamesian form" of interiorized melodrama (47). It looks forward tö the more fully successful fusion of romance and realism exemplified by The Golden Bowl, which for Brooks "turns on the temptation to melodrama and its renunciation" (46). The American therefore presents sequentially the generic modes whose subsequent integration exemplifies the mature Brooksian-Jamesian melodramatic imagination. In Brooks' summary, "what Newman achieves at the very end is entry into the true world—the tone, the manner, the substance—ofJamesian fiction" (65, emphasis mine).3 In Brooks' reading, then, The American performs a successful crossing from romance—coded (if only implicitly) as "false," externalized, improper, and aligned with fixity, closure, necessity—to realism, coded as "true," interiorized, proper, and aligned with liberation, openness, freedom. In giving my own turn to Brooks' analysis I would like to examine how these binaries come into play in the generic swerve that has discomfited the novel's critics since and including James. What is at stake in the turn of The American, I will contend, is not only a generic and tonal shift from realism to romance but a chiastic exchange of properties that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 147-160
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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