Story and Novel, Term Paper Example

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Term Paper

Henry James’s In the Cage and Poe’s The Gold Burg

The modern short story differs from earlier short fiction such as the parable, fable, and tale, in its emphasis on character progress through scenes rather than summing up: through presentation rather than telling. Gaining fame in the nineteenth century, the short stories by and large were realistic, presenting detailed accounts of the lives of middle-class personages. This tendency toward realism dictates the plot be grounded in probability, with causality fully in operation. Furthermore, the characters are human with recognizable human motivations, both social and psychological. Setting – time and place – is realistic rather than fantastic. And, as Edgar Allan Poe stipulated in The Gold Bug, the elements of plot, character, setting, style, point of view, and theme all work toward a single unified effect. Poe’s remarkable achievement lies in the creation of an atmosphere of horror suspense and mystery. There is a dark, somber atmosphere and a high emotional strain in his stories which transport the reader to the world of dreams, fantasy and mystery. He achieves realism largely in his style. At his best he has attained a picturesque of description, which was later on achieved by Stevenson as well. This is seen in his best story The Gold Bug. With consummate skills Poe imparts his stones a certain structural compactness and exactitude.

In the first place, one can say that the novella must be realistic as opposed to idealistic; the modern novelist is realistic in an extensive sense, and tries to include within the limits of the novel almost everything of contemporary life. In the second place, the modern novel must be psychological. To writers who look at consciousness in this fashion, the presentation of a story in a straight sequential line becomes not-good-enough and unreal. This particular method to portray the consciousness is in use is called “the stream of consciousness”. Henry James, whose main contribution to the technique of his novel is the use of narrative at second hand. His main emphasis is on readers’ mental and emotional reactions. Through this method, his story unfolds itself completely in the mental plane – his style expresses the exact shade of emotion or apprehension which he wishes to convey. Henry James’s In the Cage has been touted as an exploration of the artistic consciousness. The telegraphs experiences represent the plight of the artist. In this light, the artist is fated to observe the world from behind bars that prevent him on her from acting in the world, but this position allows the artist to concoct representations of it from an alternate perspective.

Unlike In the Cage, which has time and space to develop characters and interrelationships, The God Bug relies on flashes of insight and revelation to develop plot and characters. The “slice of life” in The God Bug is of necessity much narrower than that in the novella; the time span is much shorter, the focus much tighter. To attempt anything like the panoramic canvas available to Henry James’s novella would be to view firewood through a soda straw: occasionally pretty, but ultimately not very satisfying or enlightening.

In the Cage is the most substantial novella that goes unstated. In this novella, various topics and preoccupations recur; one of the most practical for James as a professional author is the matter of word length, as short stories for magazines usually have to observe tighter limits than could easily be imposed on James’s subjects, full as they were of ‘the expansive principle’. In it, a telegraphy girl struggles to escape her social and physical circumstances, but is unable to transcend into a new social world with the mobility and alterability of the information that passes through her station.

One reason that In the Cage is significant in James’s oeuvre is that its main character has to work for a living; this novella thus offers evidence for what John Carlos Rowe (158) has called “the other Henry James”, the novelist who sympathizes with financial hardship and class oppression. This novella explores in particular the changing position of women in fin de siècle London and the dangers exposure inherent in the far more public role the new woman could play, especially when she was required to work for a living. Quite the opposite, at the level of character in Poe’s The Gold Bug, Susan Amper (135) questions how the narrator could have been so certain about Legrand – and so wrong. Is there something about the narrator that blinds him to the truth? Was he in fact less certain that he claims? If so, why might he dissemble on the matter? At the end of the story Legrand says, Amper (135) continued, that he deliberately encouraged the narrator in his mistaken belief. How great a factor was Legrand’s ruse?

In terms of theme of Poe’s The Gold Bug, Susan Amper (134) raises questions about rationality and madness given in the following quote:

“Could I have depended, indeed, upon Jupiter’s aid, I would have had no hesitation in attempting to get the lunatic home by force; but I was too well assured of the old negro’s disposition, to hope that he would assist me, under any circumstances, in a personal contest with his master…I was sadly vexed and puzzled, but, at length, I concluded to make a virtue of necessity – to dig with a good will, and thus…by ocular demonstration, of the fallacy of the opinions he entertained”.

If these words are to be taken at face value, Amper (135) argued, the narrator leaves no doubt that Legrand is insane. Yet if the passage is considered in relation to the story as a whole, the narrator’s remarks take on a totally different meaning, since he subsequently reveals that Legrand knows exactly what he is doing. In context, therefore, Amper (134) argued, the above-quoted passage raises a series of cascading questions. In the quoted passage above, Susan Amper (134) argued that the narrator presents himself as the voice of reason, yet subsequent events will reveal Legrand as the man with the astute and logical mind. This reversal suggests as a further theme the conflict between exterior look and reality. This theme is figured by the secret map, which appears at first to be a scrap of worthless paper.

In a strike contrast, an important theme of In the Cage is the nature of the knowledge and information. The story illustrates a modern, technological form of information dissemination, the telegraph, and the kind of subjective, inductive knowledge gathering of which the telegraphy girl is exceptionally capable. In this novella, in his literary analysis of In the Cage, Andrew Maunder (202) states, this combination is dangerous, an invitation to scandal. This anxiety prefigures the interest and concern that early 20th century writers continued to have with the spread of new technologies. Maunder (202) further points out, this novella not only presents the issue of knowledge thematically but also conveys it’s stylistically: James’s characteristically ambiguous style of writing – a precursor, many critics claims, to the literally style of modernism – necessitates the same interpretive acuity that the telegraphy girl has so skillfully honed.

Louis A. Renza (35) argued that The Gold Bug makes its reader pay an unexpected price for its suspense-primed doublings. The tale’s first part concerns Williams Legrand, the narrator, and the slave Jupiter, who together do discover the treasure. As Thomas Ollive Mabbott (527-572) points out, at least according to textual precedents on which the tale was based, the first section would otherwise have held greater melodramatic interest for Poe’s reading public. But the second section proceeds to abstract or fray conventional, narrative expectations by having readers focus at length on Legrand’s mode of deciphering Captain Kidd’s cryptographic treasure-map. Literally taking precedence over the first part, Legrand’s methodological disquisition, whatever interest it might have held for some, serves to displace the tale’s first or aesthetic reading (Renza 35).

Considering how the creation of Henry James’s In The Cage depended on the pioneering developments in communication technology, it may be little wonder that the telegraph serves as the controlling image and central plot device of the story. As John Carlos Rowe (158) has noted, James’s initial anxiety over losing control of his own writing process helps to explain why his tale center on the telegraph, a machine that by the turn of the last century had been made part of the nationalized network and placed in local groceries throughout Britain. In the same way, Leon Edel suggests that James remained connected to the bustling London in part through telegram; like the high-end clients the telegraphy girl abhors, James too often “squandered shillings” on “coy” messages such as: “Impossible…if you knew what it costs me to say so” (The Complete Tales 9).

In the name and deed, the protagonist occasions a similar deflation within the tale. A pun on “the great Will”, “William Legrand” stands for Poe’s surrogate in writing tales generally. Legrand’s ruse of distracting his cohort treasure-seekers with a literal gold bug metaphorically doubles the desired aesthetic mystification Poe’s The Gold Bug would perpetrate on its readers generally. More importantly, Renza (35) argued, in confessing his “just-kidding” chicanery while narrating his solution of the Kidd-cryptograph, Legrand/Poe would doubly distract the narrator/reader. As author in control of the text or cryptogram that he has withheld and first interprets, he willfully positions the tale’s surrogate reader into a reflective relation to it. At this meta-confessional point, the tale’s plotted reader confronts a text the sheer aesthetic effect of which has become retroactively and irrecoverably lost. The reader’s fortified aesthetic relation to The God Bug effectively reproduces its absent or still buried treasure (Renza 36).

Besides being psychological and realistic, Henry James is also frank especially about sexual matters. This is rather an unavoidable result of the acceptance of the “stream of consciousness technique”. The “epistemological privilege” assumed by James’s critics would seem to be somewhat compromised by the Jonathan Freedman (132) portrayed in his essay: the “playful erotic punner, the teaser, taking pleasure in weaving a polyvalent erotic web which flickers between revelation and concealment”. Eric Savoy connects the tale of James’s “panicked response” to the Wilde trials, and hypothesizes that “James negotiated and perhaps contained his anxiety by displacing it into heterosexual register in the novella(294-296). Certainly, the tale represents panic about sexual revelations, yet Freedman’s (133) reading of the playful allusions and punning games, and of the jocular control over the movement of knowledge and secrecy, suggests that the “heterosexual register” is ironic rather than defensive. As Leon Edel (695-696) suggests that “laughter” rather than panic lies behind James’s refusal to portray the adulterous liaison of In the Cage more directly: Andre Raffalovich, the Russian “author of a book of homosexuality…said to have wooed John Gray away from Wilde” had asked James to explain the wrongdoings of the tale, at which James “swore he did not know, he would rather not know”.

If the claims Freedman (133) makes about James involves in truth games, James explores the dynamics of such discursive maneuvers and relentlessly interrogates the relations between identity and speech. The exploration of such relations in the novella, a tale fascinated with the spectacle of blackmail and with blackmail’s abuses of power and knowledge, passes commentary on the emergent queer culture of 1890s Britain. The tale’s ethical dimension might consist in its search for modes of sexual curiosity and speculation not directed to fixing and compromising the subject under consideration; and for Freedman (133), its ethical question might be, when does a telegraph clerk becoming a pouncing beast? Such questions should surely be raised when considering Freedman’s position as writer on James.

In the same way, Renza (38) argued that Poe’s auto-rhetorical games double-cross his fiction’s quasi-truth-claims; more precisely, they lead readers to focus on the interminable “truth” of his storytelling motives as opposed to its determinate fit with his fictional plots and themes. If a Poe tale’s aesthetic effect captivates readers only within a delimited, single sitting, critical readings arrive at the same aesthetic limbo, repetitive motifs, and other “autobiographical” rumblings deflects attention away from the tale’s immediate references to its act of encoding them (Renza 38). Poe’s own man-in-the-machine devices similarly instigate the readers’ aesthetic relation to his fictional narratives, all as if to confirm the public’s virtual absence from his act of composing them. And of what do his compositional acts consist if not the “legitimate effect” of art that by inference he then reserves for himself? More private than literally secret, his own strange scene of writing devolves on a prematurely buried beautiful premise.

Works Cited

Amper, Susan. Bloom’s How to Write about Edgar Allan Poe. Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.

Edel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. Revised Edition. New York: Harper, 1985. Print.

Freedman, Jonathan. The Cambridge Companion to Henry James. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

James, Henry. In the Cage. London: Hesparus, 2002. Print.

Knights, L. C. “Henry James and the Trapped Spectator”. In Explorations: Essays in Criticism Mainly on the Literature of the Seventeenth Century, 155-169. London: Chatto, 1946. Print.

Maunder, Andre. The Facts on File Companion to the British Short Story. Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print.

Panek, LeRoy. An Introduction to the Detective Story. Popular Press, 1987. Print.

Rowe, John Carlos. The Other Henry James. Durham, N. C: Duke University Press, 1998. Print.

Savoy, Eric. “‘In the Cage’ and the Queer Effects of Gay History”, in Novel: A Forum on Fiction 28, 3(Spring 1995): 284-307.

Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Annals of Poe’s Life,” in Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 3 volumes. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969-1978, I: 527-572. Print.

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