Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The other notable feature of this, one of James’s last completed stories, is its characteristic density of syntax. “The Jolly Corner” provides an excellent example of that “late style” that has captivated James’s admirers and infuriated his critics. Several explanations have been offered for this gradual shift in James’s stylistic practice toward greater and greater intricacy and attenuation. (One of the least convincing is Leon Edel’s assertion that this shift was caused by James’s change from composing in longhand to dictating to a secretary.) Whatever the reasons for the markedly increased difficulty of James’s writings from the turn of the century onward, one thing is indisputable: The attenuation of direct statement, the endless qualification and hedging around a point, serves to reinforce one’s sense of the tentative and uncertain quality in the thinking of James’s characters.

The whole point about Spencer Brydon is that by leaving the United States he has abandoned that life of active and vigorous intervention in the world (figured here in the possibility that he would have pursued a career in business) in order to live more or less freely (if narrowly) and unencumbered by the necessity to act directly or decisively. James’s stylistic practice thus motivates and effectively realizes a character whose raison d’être is precisely not to be decisive, powerful, or direct. Brydon’s incapacity to decide who he is or might have been, his tentativeness in confronting his alter ego (despite his manifest desire to meet this creature) is in part the result of the very circumlocutions, the syntactic irresolution of James’s style. Whatever may have been the motivation of James’s later style, it would seem that here at least the fit between thematic focus and linguistic practice is most intimate.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Robber Barons
At the turn of the century, American industrial production greatly increased. As technological innovations...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View and Narration
In ‘‘The Jolly Corner,’’ the narrator is nearly omniscient, relating exactly what Spencer...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1908: Between the years 1860 and 1914 New York’s population increases from 850,000 to more than four million people. In 1910, the...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Spencer Brydon’s explorations of his childhood home are characterized by their ritual nature: he hires Mrs. Muldoon to come at an appointed...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

The Jolly Corner was made into a short movie in 1977. It was directed by Arthur Barron and starred Salome Jens as Spencer Brydon. The video...

(The entire section is 31 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Published in 1887, The American is James’s third novel. The protagonist, Christopher Newman, is a brash, young American businessman....

(The entire section is 174 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Anderson, Quentin. The American Henry James, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1957.


(The entire section is 198 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical 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. Meany, 1994.

Nettels, Elsa. Language and Gender in American Fiction: Howells, James, Wharton, and Cather. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Novick, Sheldon M. Henry James: The Young Master. New York: Random House, 1996.

Pollak, Vivian R., ed. New Essays on “Daisy Miller” and “The Turn of the Screw.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Rawlings, Peter. Henry James and the Abuse of the Past. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Tambling, Jeremy. Henry James. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.