Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


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.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Blackall, Jean Frantz. Jamesian Ambiguity and “The Sacred Fount.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965. Uses the novel as the principal example to illustrate the novelist’s handling of ambiguity in his fiction. Calls the work an “intellectual detective story” in which the reader, not the narrator, is cast in the role of the detective, tasked to determine where truth lies in this complex tale of social relationships.

Gargano, James W., ed. Critical Essays on Henry James: The Late Novels. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Includes excerpts from three reviews by James’s contemporaries, and a twentieth century essay justifying the novelist’s narrative method and defending the sanity of the narrator.

Jones, Granville H. Henry James’s Psychology of Experience: Innocence, Responsibility, and Renunciation in the Fiction of Henry James. Hawthorne, N.Y.: Mouton, 1975. Psychological analysis of James’s major fiction. Extensive discussion of the narrator’s role in The Sacred Fount; provides useful commentary from earlier critics of the novelist’s complex method of presenting his story.

Kappeler, Susanne. Writing and Reading in Henry James. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. A major section of this study is devoted to an examination of The Sacred Fount; explores the function of the narrator, who serves not only to record but also to interpret experience. Claims James breaks down traditional barriers between writer, critic, and reader.

Sicker, Philip. Love and the Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Henry James. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980. Concentrates on the psychological dimensions of the novel. Believes the source of the ambiguity lies in James’s “presentation of two differing views of identity.” Discusses the role of the narrator. Claims the novel reveals James’s vision of love in human relationships.