Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the comparative brevity of the incidents indicates, the interest of “The Jolly Corner” lies primarily elsewhere than in the structure of its plot. As is not uncommon in the later Henry James, both in the novels and in the tales, the amount of incident is severely circumscribed, while the space given to reflection and elaboration on the inner states of the characters (here only one character, Spencer Brydon) is correspondingly expanded to such an extent that the story is virtually consumed by this psychological interest. If one compares “The Jolly Corner” with, for example, the earlier The Turn of the Screw (1898), surely James’s most famous ghost story, one sees immediately how comparatively slender is the thread of the plot in the later story. All the interest and all the importance in this tale reside in its disclosure of Brydon’s thoughts, his fears and anxieties, his inability to confront the ghost of his former, or other, self.

The two major symbolic figures in the story are the house—Brydon’s “jolly corner”—and the ghost. Both are described in some detail, and it is in the intricacy of their symbolic resonance that the key to this story lies. The house is of several stories and contains many rooms, each of which possesses a door. The psychoanalytic dimension of this feature is surely not inapposite (regardless of whether James knew about psychoanalysis proper—and there is some evidence to indicate that he did). Entering a closed room, according to psychoanalysis, symbolizes unlocking previously suppressed memories of one’s mental life. The fact that James himself, in one of his autobiographical volumes written not long after “The Jolly Corner,” recounts a dream...

(The entire section is 704 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Memory and Reminiscence
Spencer Brydon’s return to New York, his friendship with Alice Staverton, and his attraction to the...

(The entire section is 565 words.)