Why Did Henry James Kill Daisy Miller?


Now featuring *Amanda Knox*

“Here comes my sister! She’s an American girl.”  

Randolph Miller in Henry James, Daisy Miller, 1878.

The American girl is different. Daisy Miller horrified European America and much of Europe with her cheerful boldness, so Henry James killed her with a villainous miasma. Why?

There are two stories in Daisy Miller. First, the comedy of manners: an heiress goes to Europe and shocks American-European high society with her free-and-easy, potentially lewd American ways. Second, the public-health story: an heiress goes to Europe and dies of malaria. James mushes these two not-very-gripping stories together:  if heiress A is the same person as heiress B, the feeling of meaning emerges. (more…)

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm  Comments (9)  

Who Wrote This?

(This is not really a quiz. It’s just meant to show that that two classic authors were ahead of their time in more ways than you’d think.)

I.

“Is it true that you’re going away?”
“Yes, in a few minutes”.
She repeated:
“In a few minutes?… and for good?… Shall we never see you again?”
Sobs choked her.
“Good -bye!  Good-bye!  Kiss me, please.”
And she clasped him fiercely in her arms.

a. Danielle Steele, To Love Again.
b. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind.
c.  Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education.
d. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.

II..

They embraced each other, her small body was burning in his hands; they rolled a few paces in an unconscious state from which he repeatedly but vainly tried to rescue himself, bumped dully against the door, and then lay in the small puddles of beer and other rubbish with which the floor was covered. Hours passed there, hours breathing together with a single heartbeat, hours in which he felt he was lost or had  wandered farther in foreign lands than any human being before him….

a. Nelson Algren, A Walk on the Wild Side.
b. Franz Kafka, The Castle.
c. Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead.
d. Grace Metalious, Peyton Place.

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Those people were crazy, I tell you

As a young man, away from home for the first time, Flaubert was “imperiously possessed” of the idea of castrating himself.

Geoffrey Wall, “Introduction” to
Gustave Flaubert, Three Tales

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Plato and Kant have a lot to answer for

The romantics were the shock troops and sappers who softened up the honky world  for the consumer society. With liberty and equality, anyone could presume to want anything they wanted, without being accused of encroaching on others’ prerogatives. The aggregate quantity of desire multiplied exponentially, as Malthus pointed out, whereas the quantity of possible satisfaction increased only slowly, if at all. And to be too easily satisfied was shameful; an attainable or attained object was by definition degraded and unworthy. Last year’s chic outfit is this year’s wipe rag. Kant, Lamartine, and Novalis taught us that only the Ideal is good enough,  and marketing picked it up from there.

Equality and liberty did not preclude competition, and with improved means of transportation and communication the field of competition came to be the whole world. Every literate young man imprisoned in one of the modern European languages was drafted into a global contest — first to find the most unattainable ideal of them all, and then to immolate himself on that ideal. No wonder the motherfuckers were whiny.

And yes, “himself”. Bitches weren’t part of this, except as unattainable ideals. No hopeless striving for you, ladies!

Probably Plato was well-intended when he devised his celibate reform version of erotic obsession, but Jesus Christ! What a monster he unloosed upon the world!

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Stacking hay and things of that kind, Part II

(Part I)

Bouvard and Pecuchet
Gustave Flaubert tr. Polizzotti
Dalkey Archive 2005

Realism is just one phase in the long whine of the literati. Courbet always excepted, realism is always satirical or polemical and has about as much to do with reality as romance novels do. When you read a realistic novel, it’s always important to figure out The Moral of the Story.

The moral of Bouvard and Pecuchet is roughly as follows:

Copy clerks should continue to live as copy clerks even if they inherit tons of money.

Self-education is a crime against nature.

Parvenus are morons and dumbshits who speak only in cliches, have no taste, and always fuck everything up.

In general, only morons and dumbshits take an interest in science and technology, which are mostly crap anyway.

Parvenus shouldn’t study agronomy — partly because they always fuck everything up, but also because agronomy is crap. Same for medicine.

It’s impossible to learn to farm, and besides, who would ever want to try?

If a hailstorm destroys a parvenu’s orchard, it’s because parvenus are morons and dumbshits.

On page 32, Bouvard and Pecuchet’s stacks of wheat spontaneously combust because they stacked it using the Clap-Meyer method from the Netherlands. What a couple of dumbshits. (more…)

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm  Comments (4)  

In Memoriam Michel Foucault (15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984)

Gone but not forgotten

Two and a half millenia ago sexuality was invented by the horrible Greeks and idealized by Plato. Once idealized, sexuality was as robust as anthrax and as insidious as herpes, and could nest dormant in your cells like trichinella or plasmodium . For most people during much of human history, sexuality merely wallowed in the murk like some enormous, slimy, barbeled catfish, and emerged only occasionally to engulf some hapless human victim. But from time to time sexual / anti-sexual idealists like Augustine and Dante encouraged and strengthened the  monster, and finally in 1830 (with the July Revolution and the opening of Hugo’s play Hernani) the French romantics and liberals brought the undead creature from mud to land. For almost two centuries now it’s been flopping and wallowing among us, going where it will, wreaking havoc and devouring any who dare come its way.

Many have tried to tame or defeat sexuality, but each attempt has only made it stronger and more horrible. Repression, chastity, marriage, idealization, libertinism, liberation, naturalness, “relationships”, psychoanalysis, bisexuality, intersexuality, transgendering, queering – nothing has worked, and sexuality still claims countless new victims each day. This creature has no benign forms and cannot be resisted, and all we can do now is resign ourselves to our sexual fates, whatever those may be, and hope for some post-sexual Beowulf or Parsifal to come along to drive a stake into the beast’s gigantic, loathsome head.

(The part about the 1830 Revolution in France will be explained in a later post. The rest is all common knowledge, though few admit it. Nineteenth century Frenchmen were as fucked up as 19th century Americans, but in a very different manner.)

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Samuel Butler explains relationships

As soon as Jove sees Juno, armed as she for the moment was with all the attractions of Venus, he falls desperately in love with her, and says that she is the only goddess he ever really loved. True there had been the wife of Ixion, and Danae, and Europa and Semele, and Alcmena, and Latona, not to mention herself in days gone by, but he had never loved any of them as he now loved her, in spite of his having been married to her for so many years. What then does she want?

Published in: on September 5, 2010 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wordsworth’s Pretty Polly

If Lucy was the kind of person portrayed in the poem; if Wordsworth murdered her, either by cutting her throat or smothering her, in concert, perhaps, with his friends Southey and Coleridge; and if he had thus found himself released from an engagement which had become irksome to him, or possibly from the threat of an action for breach of contract, there is not a syllable in the poem with which he crowns his crime which is not alive with meaning. On any other supposition, to the general reader it is unintelligible.

(Samuel Butler, Selected Essays, 1927.)

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Before Ayn Rand and Nietzsche was La Païva

Most 19th century courtesans looked rather tame by our standards

Esther Pauline Thérèse Lachmann, Mme Villoing, Mme la Marquise de Païva, Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck

Grandes Horizontales, Virginia Rounding, Bloomsbury, 2003

Pages from the Goncourt Journals, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (tr. Baldick), NYRB, 2007

At table she expounded a frightening theory of will-power, saying that everything was the result of an effort of the will, that there were no such things as fortuitous circumstances, that one created one’s own circumstances, and that unfortunate people were so only because they did not want to stop being unfortunate….She spoke of a woman who, in order to attain some unspecified aim, shut herself up for three years, completely cut off from the world, scarcely eating anything and often forgetting about food, walled up within herself and entirely given over to the plan she was developing. And then she concluded: “I was that woman”.

Goncourt Journals, January 3, 1868 (p. 134)

La Païva (Esther Pauline Thérèse Lachmann, Mme Villoing, Mme la Marquise de Païva, Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck) was one of the most famous courtesans of decadent Second Empire France — famous for bleeding her lovers dry. In those days marriages were expected to be loveless and there was no such thing as a relationship, and men who had the wherewithal satisfied their needs for sex, romance, fantasy, ego-gratification, etc. through a variety of more or less openly commercial arrangements. A few of the courtesans became the objects of bidding wars and were able do very well for themselves, and La Païva married several aristocrats and spent the last years of her life in her final husband’s castle. (more…)

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 10:41 pm  Comments (6)  

19th century marital studies

My studies of 19th century French literature have led me to the following question: did 19th century Frenchmen have sex with their wives? My researches so far have not turned up any evidence that they did. They seem to have preferred house servants, tubercular working girls, prostitutes, courtesans, opera singers, actresses, other men’s wives, and 17 year old virgins.

It may be, however, that the Frenchman of that era did have sex with their wives, at least occasionally, but either were ashamed to admit it, or else believed that marital sex is not a suitable topic for decent conversation.

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm  Comments (9)  
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