yes, it's brilliant,
This review is from: The Beast in the Jungle (Penguin Mini Modern Classics) (Paperback).. yes, of course it's brilliant (and I love this mini format too) - so am I being mean to give it only four stars?
Well, partly it's because the copy I read was given away free with the Sunday Telegraph, apparently. Which, I suppose, raises some questions, if you're sensitive about such things, about what limitations James has - is he, you know, a bit cosy, a bit proper, chintz and cravats and tea-tables and wealth without work, just the sort of things that (I imagine) the readers of Sunday papers would like in their literature. And, come on now, doesn't that say something about James' limitations? He'd read Dostoyevsky, he'd read Zola, - yet This is his idea of "high art"?
And then there's the premise of the story, this ridiculous thing about waiting for a catastrophe. Who, of course, could be more adept than James at huddling away the essentially implausible and embarrassing nature of this donnee. Maybe every story needs one. And yes, it enabled him to write powerfully about egotism and perhaps to confess the insecurities of his own high sense of bachelor destiny. (I think it's important to say here: trust the story - Marcher is not really so egotistic as all that. And maybe that's what makes the story so uncomfortable, that his well-meaning hero is a pretty good sort, by most standards.) And the story kind of cheats, because it depends for its effect on the reader agreeing to grant the supernatural implications of this set-up while we're reading, only to find out that the whole point is that there aren't any supernatural implications. Or there are and there aren't.
Put it this way: What prevents May Bartram from explaining her insight to him, before it's too late? I understand that she doesn't at first have the insight - but when she does, why not at least try to persuade John Marcher? What is there to lose? Are we to suppose that, in all circumstances whatever, she could never make the first move? Or that Marcher, so receptive after her death, would have been so unreceptive before her death? Or that May Bartram believes that Marcher's fate has indeed been truly prophesied to him? - Surely not?
I ask these questions because it seems a powerful and important story - important to the reader: the message is direct and searching.
(James uses the word "friend" a lot to talk about male/female relationships. Same thing in The Ambassadors, which was written about the same time. It's interesting to compare the friendship there with the one that's exposed here.)