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This novella, first published in 1903, tells the story of John Marcher, a man whose life has been driven by the belief that at some point in the future some catastrophic (or eucatastrophic) event is to befall him. This belief is so consuming that Marcher feels he can share it with no-one; however one day he meets a woman to whom he has confided many years before, and, to his pleasure, she is willing to accompany him on his journey to meet the event, the Beast in the Jungle waiting to pounce.

'The Beast in the Jungle' is an intense work, having the feel of a ghost story or gothic novel at times. The reader, like Marcher, becomes obsessed with seeing the arrival of the event, whilst at the same time uncertain whether this belief is an example of supreme egotism or supreme foresight.

Although short, this is by no means a quick read. As one would expect of Henry James the sentences are long and grammatically complex, requiring repeated re-readings. The reward, however, is complete immersion in James's world, the opportunity to savour his rich language, and gradually to be granted access to his penetrating insight.

This Penguin Mini Modern Classic is an attractive edition and good value. For readers wanting more, however, 'The Beast in the Jungle' can also be found in the following collections:The Portable Henry James (Penguin Classics),"The Beast in the Jungle (Thrift Editions), and Turn of the Screw, the Aspern Papers and Two Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics).
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Henry James was himself pleased by this short tale which is saying a lot, after all this was a man who if he was still alive would still be continuously tinkering with most of his stories. Of course James isn’t the only person to be pleased with this as critics and the reading public have always in the main admired this as well.

When John Marcher attends a luncheon at Weatherend he finds himself being reacquainted with May Bartram. These two last met ten years before in Italy and John has forgotten that he told her his secret back then, the thought that something momentous is going to happen in his life. As May, released from her duties due to death is able to make her own way, she sets up residence in London to see John, and what his happening will be.

It has to be admitted that John, although shy and tries to appear to listen and care about others, is actually totally self-absorbed in himself and is obsessed about his fate and the thing that he feels certain will happen. Although short this story is relatively slow paced and you do get a feeling for the years flowing past, with nothing of any import happening to John. Even as May dies John still has not had his experience, and is dismayed by May telling him that he has.

This is quite a sad tale of wasted lives, unrequited love and missed opportunities that really seems to strike a chord with people. We are all from time to time self-absorbed in ourselves for numerous reasons but I am sure we all know people who seem to be like it most of the time, and this adds to the poignancy of this.
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on 21 November 2011
.. 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.)
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on 21 December 2012
Any reader coming to Henry James for the first time, having viewed, for example the 2009 BBC adaptation of 'A Turn of The Screw' should be warned that James is a very different proposition in print than he is on screen.

Although only 75 pages in length, this novella is no brisk read. In the most part this is due to the fact that the author is the master of the complex sentence. His prose is ornate and lacking the clarity and narrative crispness of say Orwell. Be prepared to read and reread sections in order to gain a secure grasp of the dialogue and characterisation.

Nevertheless this piece is a worthy philosophical take on the axiom life is for living and an indictment of hubris .The reader is led adroitly together with John Marcher to the inevitable epiphany that the 'Beast in the Jungle' (of life) is in fact our own ego which lurks with destructive intent steering us from commitment, self expression and joy.

This work would perhaps be better read as part of a James anthology, rather than as a stand alone novella, thus enabling the reader to become familiar with the author's challenging prose.
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on 29 August 2013
James' well regarded novella, The Beast in the Jungle, is as much a treatise on loneliness, as it is a fable about purpose, meaning, and the inherent cruelty of a life enthralled to fate. Steeped in the language of its time, its prose is dense and thriving with social and moral observation, and for fans of the period it is, quite probably, an essential piece of fiction.

Nonetheless, as a reader who struggles to align the subtler qualities of nineteenth century literature with my twenty-first century tastes, I find it difficult to find much congruence with the praise of so many other critics. The characterisation is not so much unconvincing, but is firmly focused on a couple of staid characters, and the wait for the beast is tiresome, and when finally exposed is entirely as anticipated.

If there is genius in the story, then to me it lies in making the reader suffer a microcosm of the indolent life of the protagonist, Mercher, and the climax of the book is not found within the book, but rather, after the last page, with the realisation that the reader needs read no more.
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Readers who know Henry James but can't take him are unlikely to be converted to him by The Beast in the Jungle. Those of us who adore his way of writing are in consequence their polar opposites, James's style being one that could have been designed to polarise opinions. Whether there is much middle ground, and whether many readers occupy it, I have no way of knowing, but I doubt it -- I guess if you know his work in the first place you are likely to be either with him or against him.

I suppose my reason for writing a review, even such a short one as this, is to try to flag up this extraordinary piece of work by an extraordinary genius to any newcomers on the block who have an inkling that it might be their cup of tea. I don't propose to 'sell' The Beast in the Jungle to anyone at all, but presumably I can at least say that it is hardly more than a short story in length, and that if you lose your investment you will not be losing very much. I need to say something about the style, quite obviously after what I have just said above; and then draw attention to the story itself and its denouement, which for me is powerful in the extreme.

James's sentences are like great elaborate sculptures, worked on with patience and concentration. There are other things in English prose that they resemble to some extent, but not many. Mr Gladstone's orations come to mind, but what I am most reminded of is no less than Paradise Lost in the length and the 'periodic' structure of the sentences with their elaborate subordinate clauses. However I can reassure you that James's idiom is at least 'genuine' English. Samuel Johnson and T S Eliot both alleged that the diction of Paradise Lost was nothing of the kind. Whether they were right or wrong, you will at least not find that kind of Beast lurking in wait for you. Long ago the study of classical Greek was still not uncommon, and any who can still read the speeches in Thucydides will probably get the same experience as I did, having to retrace, both there and here, the clauses in their elaborate relationships to check what follows on what.

I only identified the Beast at the same instant as John Marcher does in the story, and I was hardly less torn apart by it. I could have been another of its victims if things had not gone right. The whole story with its unspecific allusions flashed back through my head, and I had to reflect what great storytelling I thought it had all been. The ending could not have been what it is but for the way the earlier story is told in those great convoluted pronouncements. How does it sound as if it might appeal to you or at least excite your curiosity? If you miss an experience that might affect you in the way it affects me and others, you risk the vengeance of another (albeit lesser) Beast.
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on 28 May 2014
A classic novel that never fails to leave me thinking . Living life is key to killing the beast in the jungle
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on 19 November 2015
Arrived quickly and as described.
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on 7 October 2015
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