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Chapter 4 The Age of Realism (1) Representatives: William Dean Howells Henry James Mark Twain.

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1 Chapter 4 The Age of Realism (1) Representatives: William Dean Howells Henry James Mark Twain

2 realistic american landscape By waltcurlee on Flickr waltcurlee

3 Contents  Historical background The Civil War Post-war development In literary scene

4 Assignments  Tell the nature of American realism  What are the common features shared by then American realists?  What is William Dean Howells’ definition for realism?  State the symbolic meanings of “the house” in The Rise of Silas Lapham.  Tell the range of Henry James’ international theme.  List the themes in The Jolly Coner.  The three questions on P100 of the Selected Readings of American Literature.

5 Historical background  The Civil War With the development of Northern industrialization, the conflict between the North and South was becoming more and more fierce, and finally the Civil War broke out. As a result, the factory defeated the farm, and the United States headed toward capitalism. The war made many people question the assumption shared be Transcendentalists, and marked a change in the quality of American life, a deterioration of American moral values.

6 II. Post-war development  After the Civil War, commerce took the lead on the national economy.  Railroads tripled in 15 years and multiplied five times in 25, and petroleum was discovered in sizeable quantities. Industrialization and mechanization of the country were fully developing.  Wealth and power were more and more concentrated in the hands of the few “captains of industry” and “robber barons”, such as, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P.Morgan. When young, they tried to avoided military service and made great fortune during the war. The spirit of self-reliance by Emerson was perverted into admiration for driving ambition, and a lust for money and power. Children now were brought up on the idea that a person with ambition could make his own world.  The frontier was closing. The worth of American dream, the idealized romantic view of man and his life in the New world, began to lose its hold in the imagination of the people.

7 III. In literary scene  The age of Romanticism and Transcendentalism were ended Younger writers appeared on the scene. William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Mark Twain were becoming established as novelists of no small talent.  Nature of American realism As a literary movement realism came in the latter half of the 19th century as a reaction against “the lie” of romanticism and transcendentalism. It expressed the concern for the world of experience, of the commonplace, and for the familiar and the low.  The common features of the realists “verisimilitude of detail derived from observation,” the efforts to approach the norm of experience—a reliance on the representative in plot, setting and character, and to offer an objective rather than an ideal view of human nature and experience. 

8 William Dean Howells(1837-1920 )

9 Contents  His life experience (p118)  His literary position  His ideas on realism  His ideas on literary criticism  His masterpiece : The Rise of Silas Lapham (p121-p123)

10  His life experience (p118)  His literary position He was a prolific writer, writing volumes of drama, poetry, and novels in addition to criticism, travelogues, and autobiography, As a critic of eminent standing and as a prolific writer, he helped to mould public taste and became the champion of literary realism of America. It is estimated that he wrote, in addition to the great number of social novels, 8 critical books and about 1,700book reviews to spread the credo of realism.

11 His ideas on realism  His definition of realism He defines realism as “fidelity to experience and probability of motive,” as a quest of the average and the habitual rather than the exceptional or the uniquely high or low.  His aim of realism  to do nothing more than “talk of some ordinary traits of American life”  to interpret sympathetically “the common feelings of the common people”  to seek man not in his “heroic or occasional phase,” but “in his habitual moods of vacancy and tiresomeness”  Thus man in his natural and unaffected dullness was the object of his fictional representatives. To him, realism is by no means mere photographic pictures of externals but includes a central concern with “motives” and psychological conflicts.  Defects in his realism  much of his realism was external characters and events viewed from without  rarely achieved or sought to achieve “psychological depth”  his realism having a “smiling aspect”, only saving himself from pessimistic defeatism by his constructive use of novel to promote brotherly love.

12 His ideas on literary criticism  The literary critic should not try to impose arbitrary or subjective evaluations on books but should follow the detached scientists in accurate description, interpretation, and classification. The critic’s job is “to identify the literary species and explain the weaknesses of a work in the light of the author’s intentions”.

13 His masterpiece : The Rise of Silas Lapham

14 Outline  Literary position: the fine specimen of American realistic writing.  The symbolic meanings of “the house” in the novel (p121-p122)  Understanding of the love subplot (p122- p123)

15 Henry James

16 Contents  His life experience  His literary career  The influence from other writers on him  The range of his international theme  His contributions to literary criticism  His political and social ideas (p128-p129)  Appreciation of his The Jolly Corner

17  His life experience  His literary career Generally speaking , his literary career can be divided into 3 periods: In the first period (1865-82), he produced a number of novels that won him fame and reputation and reveals his fascination with his “international theme”.(The portrait of a Lady) The second period extends from 1882 to 1895, in which he dropped his “international theme” and wrote his tales of subtle studies of inter-personal relationships, and plays, which proved to be failure. Between 1895 and 1900 he wrote a few novellas and tales dealing with childhood and adolescences, which was a revival of his earlier theme.

18 The influence from other writers on him  George Eliot his ideal of the philosophical novelist, impressed him by her looking into the minds and soul of her characters  Turgenev served as a guide for him.  The French writer, Flaubert and his masterpiece, Madame Bovary  Hawthorne whose insight into human psyche impressed him deeply

19 The range of his international theme  the meeting of America and Europe  American innocence in contact and contrast with European decadence, and its moral and psychological complications.

20 His contributions to literary criticism  He developed gradually from early evaluation in terms of stiff moral standards to inductive inquiry, flexibility, and a subtle perception of aesthetic nuances.  Novel primarily has a “large, free character of an immense and exquisite correspondence with life”. The aim of the novel is to represent life. The air of reality seems “to be the supreme virtue of a novel”.  “Art without life is a poor affair.” “The province of art is all life, all feeling, all observation, all vision.” Though art must be related to life, art is important in its own way. “It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance.” A work of art must lift up the heart; there is no substitute for the force and beauty of its process.  He was concerned with “point of view” which is at the center of his aesthetic of the novel. He just used this method to emphasize the inner awareness and inward movements of his characters in face of outside occurrences rather than merely delineating their environment in any detail. He was probably the first of the modern psychological analysts in the novel and anticipated in his works the modern stream-of-consciousness technique.

21 Appreciation of his The Jolly Corner

22 Outline  Plot summary  Main Characters Analysis  Themes  Style  Symbol and Images  Critical Overview  How Alice is characterized by the narrator  Alice is considered an enigmatic figure in the story

23 Plot summary  Spencer Brydon returns to New York City after more than thirty years abroad. He has agreed to tear down his old family house to build a more lucrative apartment building. Before the wreckers move in, he starts to prowl the house at night. Brydon has begun to realize that he might have been an astute businessman if he hadn't turned his back on moneymaking for a more leisurely life. He discusses this possibility with Alice Staverton, his woman friend who has always lived in New York.

24 Plot summary  Meanwhile Brydon begins to believe that his alter ego—the ghost of the man he might have been—is haunting the "jolly corner," his nickname for the old family house. After a harrowing night of pursuit in the house, Brydon finally confronts the ghost, who advances on him and overpowers him with "a rage of personality before which his own collapsed." Brydon eventually awakens with his head pillowed on Alice Staverton's lap. It is arguable to whether or not Spencer had actually "passed out" or whether he had died and has awoken in an afterlife. She had come to the house because she sensed he was in danger. She tells him that she pities the ghost of his alter ego, who has suffered and lost two fingers from his right hand. But she also embraces and accepts Brydon as he is.

25 Main Characters  Spencer Brydon  A wealthy, cultured man, Spencer Brydon returns to New York City after spending thirty-three years living in Europe and pursuing an interest in art. He is overwhelmed by the changes he finds in the city.  Now fifty-six, Spencer revisits the house on the “jolly corner” of Manhattan where he grew up. His parents, sister, and two brothers have passed away, leaving him the sole owner of his childhood home and another property.  While Spencer oversees the renovation of one of his properties, he discovers an affinity for project management and negotiating a business deal. Surprised by his natural business acumen, he wonders what his life would have been if he had stayed in New York. Soon is obsessed with thoughts of what he has missed.

26  Alice Staverton Alice is a childhood acquaintance of Spencer’s. She accompanies him on his business trips and listens to him reflect on his past. She seems to be the only person who enjoys listening to his reminiscences. A single, middle-aged woman, Alice seems lonely and suggests that Spencer move back to New York City for good. At the story’s end, Alice confirms that she is not only very fond of Spencer but possibly in love with him.

27 Themes  Memory and Reminiscence  Alienation and Loneliness  Art and Money  Gender Roles  Transformation and Change

28  Memory and Reminiscence Spencer Brydon’s return to New York, his friendship with Alice Staverton, and his attraction to the house of his youth illustrate his overwhelming need to analyze his past. He needs to reflect on past events in order to understand who he is now. In particular, Spencer needs to come to terms with what he could have been had he remained in New York; in that way he can accept himself and move on with his life.

29  Alienation and Loneliness When Spencer left New York as a young man, he was rejecting a life in business and embracing a career in art. Upon his return, he discovers the full implications of his decision. He has he lost his family; also, New York City has irrevocably changed to the point where he hardly recognizes it. In some ways, Spencer’s experience is universal: in an attempt to recapture the past, he discovers that the world he remembers does not exist anymore. As a result, he feels alienated, cut off from his past and his own identity.

30  Art and Money Spencer rejects a career in business and escapes by pursuing a career in art in Europe. Yet while Spencer vilifies the American scene as materialistic and obsessed with money, he continues to live off the profits of that world. The rents from his properties make it possible for him to travel without financial restriction and to live abroad without having to work. The story implies that the pursuit of art is inextricably linked with money; to deny the connection is hypocritical.

31  Gender Roles Spencer’s rejection of a business career raises questions about what it means to be a powerful man in the early twentieth century. When he leaves New York City, he seems to have left behind the opportunity to marry and have a family as well as a thriving business career. By linking Spencer’s rejection of business to his absence of family, the story implies that personal choices are related to public pressures. In a sense, Spencer’s pursuit of art is a protest against one-dimensional concepts of masculinity — concepts that relate economic power to one’s worth as a man.  Alice also raises questions about how women are supposed to live their lives. While she stays in Manhattan her entire life, she never marries. The reader learns little about her life apart from her relationship to Spencer. Is her final embrace of Spencer a strong assertion of her will or a late and failed capitulation to the stereotypic woman’s role of passive and dutiful wife?

32  Transformation and Change The story hinges on Spencer confronting his alter ego. The story’s conclusion suggests Spencer and Alice will end up together and that Spencer’s wandering has ended. But what has Spencer learned? It is an open question whether Spencer has accepted his past and truly been transformed.

33 Style  Point of View and Narration  In “The Jolly Corner,” the narrator is nearly omniscient, relating exactly what Spencer sees, thinks, and feels. However, this perspective is a limited one. For example, Alice’s opinions are presented by Spencer; all impressions of her character — as well as others — are presented through him.  At a few points in the story the narrator addresses the reader directly, implying perhaps collaboration between the reader and narrator.

34 answer to question 1 in the selected readings  Another narrative technique utilized by James is the slightly different narrative tone used for the different sections of the story. In the second section, Spencer wanders the house alone and the narrative voice nearly becomes his point of view. In the first and third sections, the narrator is more objective in explaining not only Spencer’s impressions but other characters’ actions and opinions. The second section chronicles Spencer’s attempt to track down his alter ego and is characterized by dense narrative description

35 Symbol and Images  Spencer’s childhood house is the most fully developed image in the story.  As a symbol of his past While walking in the rooms of the house Spencer recalls the time when the building was his home.  As a symbol of his economic circumstances his choice to protect the building as a sacred space is enabled by his wealth, partially generated from the rents he collects on the other property. Spencer’s personal quest to revisit the past is connected to the business operations he has attempted to avoid.

36  In Henry James’ other writings, he utilizes architectural metaphors — including “the house,” and “the window” — metaphorically, symbolizing the structure that organizes and communicates meaning in fiction. In the preface to his novel The Portrait of a Lady (1881), James describes the ideal “house of fiction” as having millions of windows, each representing distinct perspectives on the world.

37 Critical Overview (how to understand Spencer’s alter ego)  “The Jolly Corner” has generated much critical commentary. On one level, Spencer Brydon’s experience is quite familiar and represents a painful but inevitable aspect of the human condition. Critics explore the implications of his self-doubt and insecurity as well as the meaning of the story’s conclusion. Is the final scene a moment of redemption for Spencer; or, is Spencer incapable of really coming to terms with his past?  Some commentators view the story as autobiographical. Like Spencer, James left the United States (in 1875), lived in Europe for a long period of time, and returned to find America much changed. Spencer’s conflict between Europe and America is subject of much of James’s fiction, literary criticism and diary entries. Moreover, Alice Staverton’s name echoes James’s beloved younger sister.

38  Spencer’s alter ego represents a personal and philosophical crisis that James’s father often spoke about — the “vastation.” Henry James, Sr. was influenced by the moral philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg, whose ideas explored the unmanageable energies of nature and the extremes of human consciousness. The “vastation” was a visitation by one’s evil self that forced one to confront their most sensitive weakness.

39  One well-established view is that by facing the “black stranger,” Spencer confronts Henry James’s alter ego. Leon Edel, James’s most meticulous and authoritative biographer, considered Spencer’s conflict emblematic of whether James regarded the United States or England as the source of his fiction. Brook charged James with turning his back on the United States in an ineffective attempt to associate with the more highly esteemed, genteel class literary tradition of England.

40  Keenly aware of his alter ego’s presence, he holds to the conviction “to show himself, in a word, that he wasn’t afraid.” While walking down the stairs he imagines himself “a physical image, an image almost worthy of an age of greater romance.”

41  Spencer masters a threatening adversary. His alter ego is a personification of this violent opposition: “some erect confronting presence, something planted in the middle of the place and facing him through the dusk.” Spencer yearns to win, to “turn the table on the apparition,” proving again that he is not scared by scaring someone else.

42  In the end, the plot’s thickening depends on questioning the way Spencer has lived his life. As Spencer stands at the window, he realizes the full force of his isolation. Instead of seeing a vulgar world against which he can elevate himself, he sees a “void.” The void lacks any sense of proportion or measure and reflects a deeper crisis in Spencer’s perspective on the world. His confusion at the window represents his final inability to separate himself from the world he had believed himself to have transcended. 

43 How Alice is characterized by the narrator  The narrator characterizes Alice as “[listening] to everything” and as “a woman who answered intimately but who utterly didn’t chatter.” In these terms, Alice seems to be a mere complement to Spencer’s heroic musings.  The narrator characterizes her in a static, one- dimensional fashion as “you were born to be what you are,” “you’re a person whom nothing can have altered.” Such terms erase Alice’s entire life experience and feeling through a gross generalization in contrast to which Spencer fills his own crisis with dramatic depth.

44 Alice is considered an enigmatic figure in the story  A few critics have examined the character of Alice with interesting results. In‘“Doing Good by Stealth’: Alice Staverton and Women’s Politics in’The Jolly Corner” (1992), Russell Reising views Alice as a major character. Within the context of her time, Alice seems to be an anomaly or outcast — unmarried, no children and self-supporting.

45  However, instead of symbolizing failed femininity, Alice is viewed by some critics as manipulative and deceptive. Some have even characterized her as an artful liar. It is a bit disconcerting, however, that despite Alice’s apparent strength and independence she is so set on marriage to Spencer. Has she spent thirty-three years merely waiting for her man to come home?

46  Recent criticism has both emphasized Spencer’s egotism and attempted to uncover the full role of Alice in Spencer’s resurrection. In “A New Reading of Henry James’s ‘The Jolly Corner’” (1987), Daniel Mark Fogel contends that as the story ends Spencer realizes that the monstrous stranger is his alter ego. Only Alice’s love will save him. In Alice’s embrace and Spencer’s return, Spencer saves himself from tragic fate. At the story’s end, Spencer is “loving and beloved,” enjoying “at last a blessed state the beauty of which the black stranger had never tasted or could never taste.”


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