Houses of fiction, houses of confinement : character introductions, autonomy, and domestic spaces in two works by Henry James Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/3b591d23h

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  • My thesis examines a total of fourteen characters from The Portrait of a Lady and The Turn of the Screw. Primarily, I have discovered an overwhelming pattern in these two works by Henry James; when characters make direct entrances--that is when they are not described or discussed in absentia by either the narrator or other characters before appearing on the page--they consistently maintain their autonomies, which is to say that they are relatively free from external manipulations and exhibit a relatively high degree of personal freedom throughout the work. They are not transformed to any large degree and in many cases they seem to undergo no transformation whatever. Those characters that enter indirectly, or are described before the reader sees them on the page, consistently lose their autonomy. Often, this change is quite dramatic, particularly for Isabel and the governess. Chapter One examines nine characters in The Portrait of a Lady: Mr. Touchett, Gilbert Osmond, Ralph Touchett, Lord Warburton, Madame Merle, Countess Gemini, Mrs. Touchett, Henrietta Stackpole, and Isabel Archer. I discover that, of the characters I study, Isabel alone makes an indirect entrance and loses her autonomy. Other characters not only serve to change her but, along with James himself, write her story. In Chapter Two I discover a different balance in The Turn of the Screw—one that has to do with presence and nonpresence in the House of Bly. Here, characters are divided almost equally between those who make direct and those who make indirect entrances. Here I examine five characters, the governess, the manuscript, the uncle, Miles, and Peter Quint, the last of whom emerges as the lone character that commands not only himself but the Bly estate and, indirectly, the residents within. Because houses and architecture play key roles in both works, I couch my thesis in James's allusion to the House of Fiction, a major theme in his preface to the 1908 New York Edition of The Portrait of a Lady. The pattern I discern informs a re-envisioning of narrative privilege within the house of fiction, one in which James alone does not stand in a position of voyeuristic and literary power, but shares this privilege with certain characters who enter on their own terms, maintain their autonomies, and "write" the fates of those less fortunate.
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