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© Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines 33, no. 2, 2003 “Les beaux jours sont passés”: Staging Whiteness and Postcolonial Ambivalence in The Europeans by Henry James Chamika Kalupahana Henry James’s The Europeans1 has often been overlooked in critical circles, perhaps due to the author’s reluctance to include it in a collected edition of his works, for “in a letter of 1878 to William James ... [he] agree[s] to his brother’s criticism that the work was ‘thin and empty’” (EU, Introduction 8). Jamesian critics who briefly mention the novel view it either as a counterpart to The American or in terms of “the pleasing clarity of language and the lightness of comedy” (Poirier 144) the encounters between the Americans and the Europeans entail. The quid pro quo nature of these exchanges continues to mark the vein of criticism placing The Europeans within the realm of “dramatic form,” with an ending that “suggests a variation on Shakespeare’s stage pastorals” (Long 68). More recent Jamesian critics such as Patricia McKee, Sara Blair, and Kenneth W. Warren have turned away from prior structuralist approaches by exploring the relationship between James, the construction of race, and his portrayal of consumer capitalism. Whereas these critical themes are studied within the context of James’s later works, such as The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, or The Ambassadors, I would argue that the very lightness of being noted in The Europeans is an instance of more contemporary critical discourses contained in an early piece by Henry James. This paper shall address how the character of Eugenia in The Europeans becomes the contested terrain whereby ”lightness” is challenged as it becomes a form of whiteness. To that end, more encompassing global implications played out in the socio-political Canadian Review of American Studies 33 (2003) 120 theatre of a newly developing American colonial venture are also made clear and shall also be explored here. The first view found in The Europeans is “a narrow grave-yard in the heart of a bustling, indifferent city, seen from the windows of a gloomy-looking inn” (33). The grave-yard “is at no time an object of enlivening suggestion; and the spectacle is not at its best when the mouldy tombstones and funeral umbrage have received the ineffectual refreshment of a dull, moist snow-fall” (EU, 33). This dismal opening scene recalls, as Robert K. Martin suggests, “the verbal and thematic echoes ... of Blithedale [Romance which] opens not only with a storm, but also with ’decayed trees’ and ’withered leaves’“ (Martin , 57). It is also indicative of some aspect of the “Ruin” alluded to in Hawthorne’s preface to The Marble Faun, whereby Hawthorne states that “Romance and poetry, like ivy, lichens and wall-flowers, need Ruin to make them grow” (The Marble Faun, 3). “Ruin” therefore becomes one of the themes in The Europeans, both in the sense that Eugenia and Felix bring with them aspects of an older, worldly European culture and in that if Eugenia cannot find her fortune in America, she will be financially ruined. Another connotative sense of “ruin” rests upon Eugenia’s acceptance in America since the homogenous racially constructed nature of American society of that time also stands to be ruined. The “grave-yard” thus becomes symbolic of Eugenia’s attempts to conform to American society and the death of her American dream as she returns to Europe, unmarried and having “gained” nothing. Particularly striking in the opening scene is that the “mouldy tombstones ” and “funeral umbrage” are covered by snow. I would therefore argue that although the city is considered “indifferent”, James subtly interweaves a language of racial difference within the rural setting of the novel. The “spectacle” observed by Eugenia becomes one through which constructions of race are made by not only explicitly mentioning the ”foreign” (O)ther, but also through the narrative construction of a specifically American whiteness. Eugenia represents a form of miscegenation threatening to the ”purity” of the rural American society to which she wants to belong; her un-consumability , unlike the black slaves and Oriental Chinese objects found throughout the novel, makes her especially menacing. Eugenia...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 119-139
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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