The Imagination of Disaster: Evil in the Fiction of Henry James

By J. A. Ward | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
The Consciousness of Evil

HENRY JAMES is a realist in fiction, one who conceives of his art as an end, not as a means, and whose effort is to dramatize life, to depict life, and to give form to life, not to present a religious or philosophic system. Evil is present in his fiction as it is embodied in concrete characters and situations and as the characters reflect upon these. James's concern with evil is a concern with an aspect of reality, and therefore it is dealt with imaginatively rather than theologically or moralistically.

It is a testimony to James's consistent artistic development that there is in his works a distinct movement toward detachment in his treatment of evil. Just as the villains of his early stories are simply conceived, so his own condemnation of them is unequivocal. In "Madame de Mauves" ( 1874), for example, James employs an almost primitive imagery of black and white to convey moral values. Likewise his admiration for the heroine, Euphemia Cleve, whose unflinching righteousness offends the modern reader, and his disapproval of the duplicity and adultery of Richard de Mauves, establish an absolute moral dualism (possibly qualified by the ambiguous ending of the story) that is characteristic of many of James's early pieces. In his more mature stories of the early period, however, James maintains a disinterested position through an ironic approach to his heroes and heroines: Christopher Newman and Isabel Archer meet evil through weakness of character as well as through unfortunate circumstances. James achieves full detachment in his middle period when he replaces the stage villainy of the Bellegardes and Osmond with the ambiguous characterizations of Mrs. Gereth, Rose Armiger, and Mrs. Brookenham.

The Other House ( 1896) reveals the shift in James's view of

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The Imagination of Disaster: Evil in the Fiction of Henry James
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Contents xi
  • Chapter One - the Consciousness of Evil 3
  • Chapter Two - Evil and the International Theme 18
  • Chapter Three - Evil in London 56
  • Chapter Four - Evil and the Major Phase 102
  • Chapter Five - the Last Tales: the Appalled Appalling 157
  • Conclusion 168
  • Notes 172
  • Index 183
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