The Houses That James Built, and Other Literary Studies

The Houses That James Built, and Other Literary Studies

The Houses That James Built, and Other Literary Studies

The Houses That James Built, and Other Literary Studies

Excerpt

There are two things that I am confident I can do very well (to quote Dr. Samuel Johnson): "One is the introduction to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most perfect manner." True, it is not difficult to write the introduction to any literary work other than my own, but to introduce my own work is--I find it--very difficult other than to state what it is to contain: see the Table of Contents! "The other is a conclusion shewing from various causes why the execution has not been equal to what the author promised to himself and to the publick." What I promised myself at the start was simply a collection of essays. What I've ended with is a collection of essays having interrelationship one to the other. Although I've worked at this book for more than a decade (and so have my students year by year), I'm not yet satisfied with its execution. My difficulties with certain essays remind me of Ryder's remark about a painting he had worked at for a decade: "The sky begins to look interesting."

All in all, I feel rather like Huck Finn: "pretty comfortable all down one side and pretty uncomfortable all up the other."

Selected from a much larger body of my publications in criticism during the past fifteen years (with about half of them published during the last five years), these studies of modern fiction by being juxtaposed gain an added richness. What's gained are the points of kinship established here from one novel to another: kinships in themes, literary parallelisms in techniques, etc. The leitmotif of crossed or confused identity, for example, extends from Crane Maggie and James The Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors to Conrad The Secret Agent; it becomes brilliantly exploited by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night and by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. What's discovered here is that Hemingway The Sun Also Rises is built upon the same blueprint Fitzgerald devised for his Great Gatsby and that Fitzgerald used it again in his Tender Is the Night. By progressing from one work to another in analyses of what's what, by studying these related works, which at the start were seemingly unrelated, what's discovered is their linked analogies--kinships not apparent on first readings.

The novel as poem, the art-novel, becomes a different novel on each subsequent reading. When finally the critic issues his interpretation, the result of years of familiarity with the given work, his interpretation (as Albert J. Guerard remarks) frequently strikes the casual reader as "irresponsible," whereas what's irresponsible is in fact the casual reader. The richer works by virtue of their complexity and inclusiveness resist a final or exhaustive reading. They elicit diverse critical response; no one interpre-

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