Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James

By Donatella Izzo | Go to book overview

Epilogue 3

The Silence of the Sphinx: “The Beast in the Jungle”

Silence can be a plan Rigorously executed The blueprint to a life It is a presence It has a history a form Do not confuse it With any kind of absence. —Adrienne Rich, “Cartographies of Silence”

“The Beast in the Jungle” (1903), the only fully canonical story in my corpus, has produced an imposing number of readings, from metaphorical, symbolic, metaphysical, mythic, psychoanalytic, formal, philosophical, and religious points of view. 1 Attempting to exhaust the extraordinary overdetermination of this story—one of its fascinating qualities—would exceed the scope of this book. I have chosen, then, to take the opposite direction and concentrate on those elements that relate “The Beast in the Jungle” to the issue of feminine silence and its narrative representation, making it the last piece of the puzzle I have been putting together in this book. Instead of surrendering to the strong metaphorical/abstract suggestion of the story, therefore, I will first read the letter of the text in search of its gender structure.


Sociology of an Obsession

“The Beast in the Jungle” is entirely predicated on cultural gender assumptions: they regulate the relationship between the protagonists and are the implicit but indispensable premise to the ensuing story of waiting and absence. In certain respects, the drastic reduction of descriptive, dramatic, and referential details seems to confer on the story the same quality that Marcher perceives in his own life, “the simplification of everything but the

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