Terrible Sociability: The Text of Manners in Laclos, Goethe, and James

By Susan Winnett | Go to book overview

Afterword

In all but the last of the novels I have discussed in this study, there remains at the end the possibility of a new text of manners; until The Golden Bowl the conventions of sociability survive -- in some, often compromised form -- the particular catastrophes whose medium they have been. Laclos wisely did not write another novel, although the restoration of the "forms" at the end of Les Liaisons dangereuses would have enabled Laclos the novelist to write the sequel that Laclos the moralist abjured. At the end of Die Wahlverwandtschaften the world of manners has been purged of the eruption of the uncanny precipitated by Ottilie; one fantasizes that Charlotte and the Hauptmann-Major live more or less happily ever after in a state of canny, disabused unmarried concord.

In The Golden Bowl, James takes us through and beyond sociability. He uses and discards manners much as Maggie Verver does. All that transpires in the novel in the way of the worldly is exploited and finally dismissed by Maggie's decisive sally into the world. And although we sense that the world of Lady Castledean and Mr. Blint continues unaffected by the plot for which it has served as a backdrop, this world has never been interesting in its own right. Although the drama of The Golden Bowl has been

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