Newmarch. House in the English countryside, somewhere between London and Birmingham. Because of the “detective” angle to the story, Newmarch bears a faint resemblance to a remote Gothic estate. However, while the Gothic heroines of literature are usually isolated from civilization and friends, Henry James’s unidentified narrator is in Newmarch for a social occasion—indeed, a familiar social ritual.
Newmarch represents the height of British civilization: A place in which wit and appearances are the supreme values. It is seemingly the superficiality of the social gathering that makes the narrator imagine all kinds of “horrors” beneath the too-perfect surface, after he detects what seems to him to be a “flaw.” In typical Jamesian irony, this “flaw” is a mysterious “improvement” in the wit of one of the guests, which actually makes him “fit in” to Newmarch better than before. Newmarch provides precisely the kind of atmosphere in which a subtle narrator may be expected to flourish. It is “the great asylum of the finer wit,” in which people meet to do nothing but talk brilliantly—unless the narrator is correct and they also meet to conduct shadowy love affairs. The narrator’s theory of the hidden depths of Newmarch may be the finest flower of its superficiality and idleness.
During an apparently perfectly innocent scene in which guests at Newmarch gather in the evening to hear a pianist...
(The entire section is 435 words.)