Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Beast in the Jungle” is a product of what critics call James’s third and final phase. Some consider this his richest phase; others find it flawed by excessive narrative and indirection, implausibly mannered dialogue, a fussy and cobwebby style, and a pretentious ponderousness. James Thurber, who admired James, parodied this style and technique in “The Beast in the Dingle.”
“The Beast in the Jungle” does have some shortcomings. James’s late works are an acquired taste, and though the denouement and message of the story are extremely powerful, they are delayed so long and the situation leading up to them is so farfetched that a reader unaccustomed to James may be frustrated. James was unable to place it in a magazine, and it had to wait a year to be published in a collection of his stories. Despite its length, the characters are never fully developed as three-dimensional individuals. Their lives and relationship are so anemic as to seem almost disembodied. May Bartram, as she is declining and trying to make Marcher aware of her love and his danger, does become poignant, but until the end, Marcher seems almost an abstraction, more the embodiment of an idea than a flesh and blood human being. He is wintry March; Miss Bartram is May. On the other hand, the story gradually generates considerable suspense as the reader waits to discover what the beast is and when it will spring, especially when Miss Bartram becomes aware of it and tries to...
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Character & Culture Change
If one agrees with Virginia Woolf’s wry generalization that ‘‘in or about December 1910, human character changed,’’ then one has to deem Henry James a man of America’s bygone past, or, from the British point of view, ‘‘a Victorian’’ instead of ‘‘a Modern.’’ His is the world which gave rise to our own. The years that bound the dates of his birth and death, 1843 and 1916, comprise an era of astounding movements and changes. James witnessed the abolitionist movement (Americans working for the end of slavery), industrialization (the era when John D. Rockefeller, John Pierpont Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt built their fortunes), massive immigrant influxes into America, urbanization (the growth of cities), workers’ rights movements, women’s rights movements (the feminist movements and the suffragettes), and the pinnacle of European and American imperialism and colonialism. The American Civil War, which also occurred during this time period (when James was still living in New York, not in London), is related to this waning of European dominion, insofar as it resulted in the abolition of slavery, which was a legacy of European imperialism in Africa. The aristocrats who people James’s novels were destined for the crash of World War I, which weakened their political power as did the Industrial Revolution’s positive effect upon the growth of the middle class. But while the middle class grew in...
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Point of View
Third-person narration, which consistently represents John Marcher’s point of view, dominates James’s story. The reader is privy to Marcher’s thoughts, but the narrating voice declines to comment on these thoughts. In this respect, James is known as an innovator. In comparison with the third-person omniscience of the great nineteenthcentury realists (for example, George Eliot), whose narration not only conveyed characters’ thoughts and actions but also commentary and judgment regarding those thoughts and actions, James’s thirdperson narration limits itself to presenting Marcher’s thoughts and stops there. James’s innovation, then, is to have introduced a narrative technique which is less regulative of the reader’s experience: readers are not necessarily told what to think by James. However, this third-person narration in ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle’’ is occasionally disrupted. In the second section of the story, the narrating voice moves to encompass the reader by the introduction of the word ‘‘[o]ur.’’ After this first disruption, ‘‘our’’ and ‘‘we’’ begin to appear more frequently, and in section three, the narrating voice claims the first person singular pronoun, ‘‘I.’’ These occasional lapses in the third-person narration invite readers to distance themselves further from Marcher. Once the narrating voice explicitly draws the reader into the position of contemplating Marcher’s...
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Topics for Further Study
Analyze and discuss the seasonal and/or dark and light imagery in ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle.’’ Where does it appear, and how does it contribute to the story’s effect?
What can we discern about May Bartram’s character, and what is her function in the story?
Research the findings of archeologists at the sites of Pompeii, Carthage, or Troy. Aside from the suddenness of the destruction faced by these cities’s inhabitants, what characteristics of their fates are in some ways similar to the fate of Marcher in ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle’’ ?
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In 1978, renowned French film director Francois Truffaut adapted The Altar of the Dead and The Beast in the Jungle into a film entitled La chambre vert (The Green Room). It is available with English subtitles from Metro Goldwyn Mayer/ United Artists Home Video.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Age of Innocence (1920), by Edith Wharton, is a historical novel of aristocratic New York, in which the ranks of class propriety close around Newland Archer, preventing him from breaking his engagement to pursue a woman with whom he falls in love. This woman, though she is an American, has lived much of her life in Europe and returns to America following her estrangement from her aristocratic European husband. In this meeting of Archer and an Europeanized woman, Wharton, like James, stages a fascinating clash of cultures.
A Room with a View (1908), by E. M. Forster, is another tale which treats the opposition between passion and repression. Like James, Forster was a traveler and writer who was often drawn to depicting the meeting of cultures. In this novel we read of Britons in Europe, and in his even more famous novel, A Passage to India (1924), Forster depicts the strained relations between the British imperial community and Indians.
The short stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar should attract any reader who enjoys Henry James. Borges and Cortazar are widely translated Latin American authors whose short stories are as artful as James’s own.
Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser, was published in 1900, three years before James’s ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle.’’ Like James, Dreiser is a keen realist. As the reader follows the fortunes of Carrie Meeber from her small town to her success as...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Harris, Janice H. ‘‘Bushes, Bears, and ‘The Beast in the Jungle’.’’ Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring 1981): 147-54.
Tate, Allen. ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle.’’ In Critics on Henry James, J. Don Vann, editor, University of Miami Press, 1972, pp. 75-8.
Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth, New York: Scribners, 1905.
Levenson, Michael H. ‘‘Consciousness.’’ In A Genealogy of Modernism, Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 1-22. Levenson’s chapter explains how Joseph Conrad and Henry James introduced narrative innovations that the next generation of writers built on. A good comparative description of style and narrative point of view (nineteenth-century authorial omniscience versus limited- point-of-view technique).
James, Henry. The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces, New York: Scribners, 1934. An excellent companion text for the study of James. In this collected edition of critical prefaces, James presents the circumstances which gave rise to some of his narratives’ composition, as well as wide-ranging commentary on diverse aspects of each work.
Woolf, Virginia. ‘‘Modern Fiction.’’ In The Gender of Modernism, edited by Bonnie Kime Scott, Indiana University Press, 1990, pp. 628-33. In this brief essay, Virginia Woolf, a Modernist writer, explains which techniques and...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Anesko, Michael. “Friction with the Market”: Henry James and the Profession of Authorship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Henry James. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Dewey, Joseph, and Brooke Horvath, eds.“The Finer Thread, the Tighter Weave”: Essays on the Short Fiction of Henry James. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2001.
Edel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Graham, Kenneth. Henry James, a Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
Habegger, Alfred. Henry James and the “Woman Business.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Harden, Edgard F. A Henry James Chronology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Hocks, Richard A. Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius. New York: William Morrow, 1992.
Lustig, T. J. Henry James and the Ghostly. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Martin, W. R., and Warren U. Ober. Henry James’s Apprenticeship: The Tales, 1864-1882. Toronto: P. D....
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