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Robert V. Similarly, the shrewd, proud old Marquise is also cold and reserved. On this, see R. Long's The Great Succession. Henry James acid the Legacy of Hawthorne In Hawthorne and History , J. Hillis Miller discusses the role of realism and allegory in Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," pointing out the centrality of these concepts in the tradition of American literature. The text used for my analysis of the novel is that of the original edition Unfortunately, she is the cause of a duel in which Valentin is fatally wounded.
A little before this event, Claire decides to break her engagement, influenced by her mother and brother. At Valentin's deathbed, Newman hears the Count's disgust with his family and is told that Mrs. Bread, the Bellegardes' maid, knows a guilty secret about them that Newman may use to his own ends.
After Valentin's funeral, Claire announces that she intends to become a nun. Thanks to Mrs. At first, Newman determines to carry out his revenge, but in the end, he destroys the letter in which Claire's father exposed the family guilt. This unhappy denouement has become the source of a flood of criticism, which continues to this day 4. William Dean Howells, as the editor of the Atlantic Monthly in which The American was being published in instalments, was one of the first authors to criticize the novel's ending.
It was cruelly hard for poor N. I have written my story from Newman's side of the wall, and I understand so well how Mme. If I had represented her as doing so I should have made a prettier ending, certainly; but I should have felt as if I were throwing a rather vulgar sop to readers who don't really know the world and who don't measure the merit of a novel by its correspondence to the same I suspect it is the tragedies in life that say more to my imagination.
Banta's New Essays on The American But as Edel has noted, given the protagonist's misfortunes in the second part of the novel, the unhappy ending is "no more 'real' than would have been a happy one" , In any case, James produced a happy ending, for The American when he took the novel to the stage in In his preface for the New York edition , James recognized his dissatisfaction with The American, noting that given the circumstances, The great house of Bellegarde They would have jumped Blackmur , Although in the preface to The American, James realized that when writing the novel he "had been plotting arch-romance without knowing it" in Blackmur , 25 , and even sketches a definition of the real and the romantic, he is never clear about the difference between them.
Blackmur , 33 Anticipating the typical postmodernist love of ambiguity and paradox, James states that, in fact, "the interest is greater Like James, Elam concludes that "a clear distinction between realism and romance [is] impossible" , 7 5. In disagreement with R. Chase, who in The American Novel and Its Tradition establishes a clear distinction between romance and realism, Elam defends the uncertainty inherent in the concept of romance: romance "uses and abuses conventional categories of genre," "threatens to expose 'reality' as a constructed referent rather than as a 'natural' state of existence" and "is neither realistic nor fantastic" , 4, 8, In short, romance appears to be a contradictory term which, in Derrida's words, evokes "a principle of contamination, a law of impurity" and "excess.
Boundaries, whether temporal or generic, fail to maintain control over that which they are intended to delineate. Thus, The American comes to support the thesis advocated by Elam and other critics 6 : that the characteristics of postmodernism are already contained within modernism and anticipated in earlier historical periods: "postmodernism is characterized by a definitive dispute about its location at which "historical" point is it introduced?
Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant. It was full of contradictory suggestions, and though it was by no means the glowing orb of a hero of romance, you could find in it almost anything you looked for. In addition, the comparison of Newman to the heroes of romance, in which, by implication, he proves inferior, anticipates the parodic features of the novel.
Obviously, these parodic features contribute to reinforce the "contamination" and "excess" of The American, since, as is well known, parody is a recurrent characteristic of postmodern works 7. On the other hand, the second-chapter dialogue between Newman and Mr. Tristram about paintings copies vs. Tristram "[doesn't] care for pictures," preferring "the reality" p. Tristram's words may be taken to echo James's insistence on realism in literature "the air of reality Similarly, the first chapters anticipate the gloomy events of the second part of the novel: Mrs.
Tristram warns Newman of the "old feudal countess," who "rules the family with an iron hand, and allows [Claire] to have no friends but of her own choosing p.
In turn, Newman, when meeting the old marquise for the first time "felt as if he had plunged into some medium as deep as the ocean, and as if he must exert himself to keep from sinking" p. In fact, the atmosphere of danger and ominousness is present from the start, as the pervasiveness of hints 8 demonstrates. Ironically, Newman's remark about the Bellegardes' dwelling is absolutely premonitory: "It is like something in a play On this, see P.
Waugh's Metafiction , L. I use this term in the narratological sense. Bal , notes, hints are implicit and increase the tension: "A hint is simply a germ, of which the germinating force can only be seen later. In the same way, the symbolic description of this house points to the gothic elements that surround both the past of the Bellegardes and the denouement of the plot. It is worth noting that sentences such as "It is like something in a play" recur throughout the text, emphasizing the novel's self-reflexivity.
In the first chapter, Mr. Tristram asks Newman: "Are you going, to write a book? In this anticipatory mise-en-abyme, the protagonist also feels "as if [the events] were a play at the theatre" p. In fact, The American offers varied instances of this kind: both characters and situations are compared to different literary genres, thus invoking the principle of contamination and impurity which Derrida associates with romance.
For instance, Count Valentin was to Newman "the ideal Frenchman, the Frenchman of tradition and romance" p. No doubt, Valentin is the failed hero of James's romance: Mrs. Tristram notes his resemblance to the hero of Keats's "Belle Dame sans Merci," an allusion that, though dismissed by Valentin with a humorous reply "it is good manners for no man except Newman to look happy" [p. In agreement with the romantic features that define Count Valentin, his death is brought about by a typical element of romance: the duel.
As before, the dialogue raised around it can also be taken as a metaphor on literary genres, in this case the survival of romance in adverse conditions: "Your duel itself is a scene," said Newman; "that's all it is! It's a wretched theatrical affair. Why don't you take a band of music with you outright?
Quite apart from the goodness of the cause in which a duel may be fought, it has a kind of picturesque charm which in this age of vile prose seems to me greatly to recommend it. It's a remnant of a higher-tempered time; one ought to cling to it. Depend upon it, a duel is never amiss. It was too strange and too mocking to be real; it was like a page torn out of a romance, with no context in his own experience" p. This passage is particularly significant, since it brings to mind the different frames of contemporary metafictional novels: obviously, in this novel there is no breaking of frames, but Newman's confusion when confronted with such strange occurrences recalls the "visions, dreams, hallucinatory states and pictorial representations" which, in postmodern works, "are finally indistinct from the apparently 'real' " Waugh , The last pages of the novel reinforce its metafictional character, its dealing with the events as passages from a book: "Without in the least intending it or knowing it, [Newman] attempted to read the moral of his strange misadventure" p.
In a similar style, the narrator adds: "The most unpleasant thing that had ever happened to him had reached its formal conclusion, as it were: he could close the book and put it away" p. Nevertheless, the book is not put away until its remnant, the accusing letter of the old marquis, has been utterly destroyed: "Newman instinctively turned to see if the little paper was in fact consumed; but there was nothing left of it" p.
Thus, the destruction of the letter puts an end to the romance in which the American has been strangely involved. Critics have often underlined the humorous vein in which the contrast of manners between Newman and Parisian aristocrats is brought into relief. In fact, humour is so central to the structure of The American that critics have spoken of it as "high comedy" Edel , , or at least conceded that comedy constitutes "Its dominant mode" Anderson , 41 , emphasizing also how important humour is to American culture 9.
Certainly, there are many passages in the book that exploit Newman's spontaneity and ingenuousness, sometimes portraying him as the dupe and the Europeans as jokers. However, the most significant episodes are those that combine humour and parody, since these elements contribute to create the atmosphere of "contamination" and "excess" that we are analysing.
Parody is a recurrent feature of postmodernist texts.