Commonplace–James

It wouldn’t have been failure to be bankrupt, dishonoured, pilloried, hanged; it was failure not to be anything. And so, in the dark valley into which his path had taken its unlooked-for twist, he wondered not a little as he groped. He didn’t care what awful crash might overtake him, with what ignominy or what monstrosity he might yet be associated–since he wasn’t, after all, too utterly old to suffer–if it would only be decently proportionate to the posture he had kept, all his life, in the promised presence of it. He had but one desire left–that he shouldn’t be “sold.”

How might Marcher feel that he as it risk for being “sold?” Why the reliance on May to help him through his suffering?; he seems selfish in his own suffering

Henry James. “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories and Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999), 470.

The Beast in the Jungle

“The definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson from that was that a man of feeling didn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt. Such was the image under which he had ended by figuring his life.” (204)

The emotion full of despair that pervades his logic and thoughts at this point of the story stood out to me.

James, Henry. “The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903. Internet Archive.http://archive.org/details/bettersort00jamegoog. 204

“The Beast in the Jungle”

“Since it was in Time that he was to have met his fate, so it was in Time that his fate was to have acted; and as he walked up to the sense of no longer being young, which was exactly the sense of being stale, just as that, in turn, was the sense of being weak, he walked up to another matter beside. It all hung together; they were subject, he and the great vagueness, to an equal and indivisible law. When the possibilities themselves had, accordingly, turned stale, when the secret of the gods had grown faint, had perhaps even quite evaporated, that, and that only was failure.”

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories and Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999), 469-470.

It is interesting to see how Marcher views growing old. If he is to grow old he loses his purpose and suddenly becomes weak. Failure seems to be his biggest concern. I also noticed how ‘time’ had been capitalized but ‘gods’ had not been. Readers can see where his concerns lie in this passage.

The Beast In The Jungle

“He continued to attach his eyes to her, and with the sense that it was all beyond him, and that she was too, he would still have sharply challenged her, had he not felt it an abuse of her weakness to do more than take devoutly what she gave him, take it as hushed as to a revelation. If he did speak, it was out of the foreknowledge of his loneliness to come.”

“The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Scribner, 1903. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/bettersort00jamegoog. 231

The Beast in the Jungle

“Why, the capacity to spend endless time with dull women- to spend it, I won’t say without being bored, but without minding that they are, without being driven off at a tangent by it; which comes to the same thing.  I am your dull woman, a part of the daily bread for which you pray at church.  That covers your tracks more than anything.”

“The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Scribner, 1903. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/bettersort00jamegoog. 208-209

I found this passage funny, how women are part of men’s daily penance and yet “save” men or cover up their tracks.

The Beast in the Jungle

The escape would have been to love her; then, then he would have lived. She had lived- who could say now with what passion?-since she had loved him for himself; whereas he had never thought of her (ah, how hugely it glared at him!) but in the chill of his egotism and the light of her use. Her spoken words came back to him, and the chain stretched and stretched. The beast had lurked indeed, and the beast, at its hour, had sprung; it had sprung in the twilight o f the cold April when, pale, ill, wasted, but all beautiful, and perhaps even then recoverable, she had risen from her chair to stand before him and let him imaginably guess; it had sprung as he didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall. He had justified his fear and achieved his fate; he had failed, with the last exactitude, of all he was to fail of; and a moan now rose to his lips as he remembered she had prayed he mightn’t know. This horror of waking –this was knowledge, knowledge under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999), 489.

The beast as regret or missed opportunity? Loving as living. Knowledge as powerful as ignorance.

The Beast in the Jungle

“She spoke it in a tone so special, in spite of her weakness, that he stared an instant—stared as if some light, hitherto hidden, had shimmered across his vision. Darkness again closed over it, but the gleam had already become for him an idea. ‘Because I haven’t the right——?’
‘Don’t know—when you needn’t,’ she mercifully urged. ‘You needn’t—for we shouldn’t.’
‘Shouldn’t?’ If he could but know what she meant!
‘No—it’s too much.’
‘Too much?’ he still asked—but with a mystification that was the next moment, of a sudden, to give way. Her words, if they meant something, affected him in this light—the light also of her wasted face—as meaning all, and the sense of what knowledge had been for herself came over him with a rush which broke through into a question. ‘Is it of that, then, you’re dying?’
She but watched him, gravely at first, as if to see, with this, where he was, and she might have seen something, or feared something, that moved her sympathy. ‘I would live for you still—if I could.’ Her eyes closed for a little, as if withdrawn into herself, she were, for a last time, trying. ‘But I can’t!’ she said as she raised them again to take leave of him.”

“The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Scribner, 1903. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/bettersort00jamegoog. 232-233

What is the function of the choppy, ambiguous dialogue preceding/during this passage, considering Marcher’s tragic realization? What is May trying to say to him here?

 

Commonplace The Beast in the Jungle

“May Bertram, whose face, a reminder, yet not quite a remembrance,”

I like this passage because it describes the woman, May Bertram, as average but it does it so uniquely. Although her face might not memorable the way it is described is.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 446.

 

“It’s dreadful to bring a person back, at any time, to what he was ten years before.”

This passage stuck out to me because it is such a simple statement made by the woman but is still a vivid look into how Henry James probably viewed the past.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 450.

 

“At this, for a minute, their lightness gave way to their gravity; it was as if the long look they exchanged held them together.”

Their lightness giving way to their gravity sort of seems to contradict itself since gravity is usually held by things with extremely large masses and not by any means considered light. This leads you to the conclusion the gravity is being used in the context of “the gravity of the situation” which is appropriate because John Marcher seems to be talking about watching some coming apocalypse.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 454.

 

“The real form it should have taken on the basis that stood out large was the form of their marrying. But the devil in this was that the very basis itself put marrying out of the question. His condition he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him.”

James is being so elusive with what the condition is. He keeps eluding and giving isolated hints while remaining vague.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 457.

 

“a man of feeling didn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt.”

This passage is talking about the metaphor made a sentence or two prior about the beast in the jungle waiting to slay or be slain. It caught my attention because while the beast’s actions are not definite yet, the lady is on a tiger-hunt. She is out to slay.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 458.

 

“What’s the most inveterate mark of men in general? Why, the capacity to spend endless time with dull women”

Sounds like a very classical thing to say. I mean classical in the Jane Austen era sense.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 461.

 

“He still, however wondered. ‘But doesn’t the man of courage know what he’s afraid of—or not afraid of? I don’t know that, you see. I don’t focus it. I can’t name it. I only know I’m exposed.’”

So he’s afraid but of something but he doesn’t know what yet he knows what’s going to happen. He also refuses to tell her what it is because according to her he’s afraid she’ll find out what’s going to happen. So he’s not afraid of what’s coming but is afraid that she’ll find out how it ends?

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York : Library of America, 1999), 464.

The Beast in the Jungle

“One discussed, of course, like a hunchback, for there was always a hunchback face. That remained, and she was watching him; but people watched best, as a general thing, in silence, so that such would be predominantly the manner of their vigil. Yet he didn’t want, at the same time, to be solemn; solemn was what he imagined he too much tended to be with other people. The thing to be, with the one person who knew was easy and natural, to the make the reference rather than be seeming to avoid it..”

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays(New York: Library of America, 1999). 458

Marcher hides behind the truth of knowing. However, it is interesting that when he finally finds May who knows the truth, he is craving the discussion of it and its almost like he yearns to set it free. May’s silence of the “beast” was like the people of a village watching the face of a hunchback man without saying a word about the clear hunch on his back.

The Beast in the Jungle

“He saw the Jungle of his life and saw the lurking Beast; then, while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge ad hideous, for the leap that was to settle him”.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays(New York: Library of America, 1999).

This was the perfect ending to this short-story because it tied together the entire plot and the title- everything made sense.

“The Beast in the Jungle”

“What it presently came to in truth was that poor Marcher waded through his beaten grass, where no life stirred, where no breath sounded, where no evil eye seemed to gleam from a possible lair, very much as if vaguely looking for the Beast, and still more as if missing it.”

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in The Better Sort. (New York: Scribner, 1903. Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/bettersort00jamegoog), 235.

James presents the “ordinary” as more “extraordinary” by framing Marcher’s search for meaning or purpose as an unsuccessful “hunt” in a seemingly empty jungle.  The “Beast”‘s absence, rather than its presence, becomes the problem here–which is a bit misleading/interesting considering all the attention James gave to the mystery of what Marcher’s “Beast” would be.

Sample Commonplace

He stayed away, after this, for a year; he visited the depths of Asia, spending himself on scenes of romantic interest, of superlative sanctity; but what was present to him everywhere was that for a man who had known what he had known the world was vulgar and vain.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” in Major Stories & Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999), 484.

“Vulgar” as the problem. Why “romantic”?