Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

James's "The Patagonia": A Critique of Trollope's "The Journey to Panama."

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

James's "The Patagonia": A Critique of Trollope's "The Journey to Panama."

Article excerpt

Five years before Henry James wrote "The Patagonia" (1888), James published his long essay on Trollope in which he noted that, although many of Trollope's short stories were "charming," the presentation of his "British maiden" had not "a touch of the morbid." James concluded that Trollope had "a wholesome mistrust of morbid analysis" (Partial Portraits 102). It is this deficiency, as James considered it, that he "corrected" in his version of Trollope's "The Journey to Panama" (1861). By introducing the actual suicide of James's heroine, Grace Mavis, presented as a "mysterious tragic act" ("Patagonia" 347), with all its unsaid deeper psychology into the framework of "The Journey to Panama," James offers his critique of Trollope's tale when he remodels it as "The Patagonia."

The publication in the nineteen-eighties of the complete collected tales of Anthony Trollope has given the scholar an opportunity to see some startling connections between one of the 40 tales by Trollope and the talc of Henry James. Some of these Trollope tales had been republished in 1867 in a volume called Lotte Schmidt and Other Stories, which James probably saw and read, although the volume does not appear in his library and in his famous essay on Trollope of 1884 he does not mention in detail any of the short stories.

The early tale by Trollope seems to have interested James enough to improve on it in his tale written during a very productive year, 1888, a kind of annus mirabilis, along with such fine stories as "The Lesson of the Master," "A London Life," "The Modern Warning," "The Aspern Papers" and "The Liar." William Dean Howells spoke of this series as "one masterpiece" following the other, all revealing "depths under depths" of characterizations and showing James's "clutch upon the unconscious motives" of his people. This is as true of "The Patagonia" as it is of the other well-known tales.

The "germ" given by James in his Notebooks was

suggested to me by Mrs. Kemble's anecdote of Barry St. Leger and the lady (married and with her husband awaiting her in England) with whom he sails from India. She was young and pretty and had been placed under the captain's care. At a certain stage in the voyage, the captain was notified that the passengers were scandalized by the way she was flirting and carrying on with B. St. L. This came to her knowledge and during the night she jumped overboard. Admirable dismal little subject. (Complete Notebooks 43)

That same day James receives from Theodore Child the idea for "The Lesson of the Master" (Complete Notebooks 43). These two stories are typical of those written during the 1887-88 period, in which James uses the basic plot suggested by a few words from a friend's anecdote. However, these tales get their further impetus, not only from the anecdote in life, but also from some specific literary model. Although "A London Life" was suggested by Paul Boutget, lames uses Hogarth's literary illustrations to create the main parallel or analogue and for the "The Lesson of the Master" he resorts to the life of St. George from The Lives of the Saints. So also in "The Patagonia" James uses "The Journey to Panama" to fortify Mrs. Kemble's "germ."

The Trollope story and the James story both concern the sea voyage taken by a young woman who is going out to meet her fiance to get married after "a long engagement, of ten years" (Trollope 356; James, "Patagonia" 295). There is no love in either case as far as the young women are concerned and both take up with an attractive young man on shipboard. A tentative shipboard romance develops in each case between them, but their being seen together leads to gossip, which in turn leads to the breakup of the romance. Unlike Mrs. Kemble's "germ," the women are unmarried and have contracted their engagements to avoid poverty and social isolation. It is in the denouement that James parts company with Trollope. His heroine, Grace Mavis, actually commits suicide, whereas Trollope's Emily Viner only occasionally thinks of killing herself and, in the end, she is saved from a loveless marriage by the unexpected death of her fiance. …

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