Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Henry James: Two of His Most Famous Short Stories

"The Beast in the Jungle" (1903, 44 pages)
"The Jolly Corner" (1908, 34 pages)

At Sixteen
Two Stories About What Might Have Been

The Library of America collected four volume set of the short stories of Henry James (1843 to 1916-USA)  runs to nearly 4000 pages.  (Now there is a reading challenge worthy of the name!)  "The Beast of the Jungle" and "The Jolly Corner" are considered by those who have read a lot of his work as among his very best short stories.  (There is some background information on Henry James in my prior posts on him.)

Both of these stories have something interesting in common.   The unmarried confirmed bachelor  male lead character in each story has a very close woman friend with whom he has had a very long purely Platonic relationship.   "In the Beast in the Jungle" the male character explicitly states that one of the reasons he values his close relationship to his female friend is that she makes him appear to be more like other men.   "In the Jolly Corner" the male leads faces a ghost like figure which seems to represent what his life would have been like had he been more like other men.   In his introduction to the volume in which I read these two stories David Sweet of the American University in Cairo says that some do take this as a reference to the male lead characters inability to accept his homosexuality.   I can see how one might reverse engineer the facts of the life of Henry James into such a reading but I think it is a reach in terms of the text but it is there as a possibility.  

"The Beast of the Jungle" is a wonderful work of art of a genius at the heights of his power.   The man in the story has a very close long term female friend. He has never married or had as far as we are told, any romances at all.  He also has a long standing fear that something terrible is going to happen in his life.   He uses this as an excuse not to pursue a romantic relationship with the woman as he does not want to involve her in the terrible thing that will happen to him.   He genuinely likes her but it is a bit sad to see he values her mostly as it makes him seem less strange in the eyes of society.   This for sure is a reference to the strong homophobic values of the society in which the story unfolds.    The ending is perfect and when we find out what the beast in the jungle is it comes with a heartbreak.   This is a very powerful story.

As Henry James aged, his writing style is considered to become more and more "difficult".   "The Jolly Corner" would be considered stylistically on a par with his last novels.   If you have given up on his novels, you will probably not relish this story.   That being said, "The Jolly Corner" is considered his best paranormal type work after The Turn of the Screw.   The central male character is also a confirmed bachelor with a long time close Platonic female friend.   He has lived in London for many years (just like James did) and lived from the rents of inherited properties in New York City.   "The Jolly Corner" is about what happens when he returns to New York City and begins to renovate one of his old properties and how this changes his relationship to the woman.    "The Jolly Corner" is really a fun read.   

You can easily find both of these stories online.   

I will be reading and posting on more of  the shorter fiction of Henry James.   I will probably next post on "The Pupil", then on "The Alter of the Dead".   

Please share your thoughts and experience on Henry James.

Mel u


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I have been meaning to read THE TURN OF THE SCREW for a while now. Henry James has written an awful lot of short stories which I can read online. My TBR list goes out the window every time I come across unread authors/books.

C. Fowkes said...

I'm really happy I found your website. I also love short stories. In fact, that's primarily what I write. They're more Twilight Zone than Thomas Hardy. If you're interested, you can check out my website,
Also, thank you for mentioning Henry James. I was trying to think of his name when talking about the subject of The Turn of the Screw.