Frames in James : The Turn of the screw, What Maisie knew

Frames in James : The Turn of the screw, What Maisie knew

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insistence upon "the analogy·between the art of the painter and the art of the .. parents (WMK 42), and to their friends she is a plaything. Their laughter no idea that she is buried in the depths of Plato's cave. The first ghostly 

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L ehi gh U niversit y L ehi gh P re se rv e The se s a nd Di sse rta tion s 1992 F ra mes in J ames : The T urn of the scr ew, W hat M aisie knew , and The A mbassa dors P aul Gor man B eidler Le hig h U niv er sit y F ollo w thi s and a ddition al w orks at: h tt p://pr ese rv ele high e du/e td Thi s The sis i s br ought to y ou for f re e a nd ope n acce ss b y L ehi gh P re se rv e I t h as be en a cce pt ed for inclusion in The se s a nd Di sse rta tion s by a n a uthor iz e d a dmini str ator of L ehi gh P re se rv e F or mor e information, p leas e c onta ct pr ese rv [email protected] high e du R ecomme nded Citation Beid ler, P aul Gor man, " Fra me s in J ame s : The T urn of the s crew , W hat M aisie kne w, a nd The A mbassa dor s" (1992) Th ese s a nd Disser ta tio ns P ape r 107 i ler, suI ram $ in Ja s: l' Turn f t cr w, What Maisie Knew, and The Ambassadors / _/ D TE: October 11, 1992 FRAMES IN JAMES: THE TURN OF THE SCREW, WHAT MAISIE KNEW, AND THE AMBASSADORS by Paul Gorman Beidler A Thesis Presented to the Graduate and Research committee of Lehigh University in Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts in English '\ Lehigh University October 1992 Acknowledgements I am indebted to Professor James R Frakes for inspiration, for his great patience and enthusiasm, and for his attention to detail and consistency I also thank Professor Peter G Beidler, my father, who guided me through an Independent study course that developed into the first chapter of this essay and whose example I shall always follow as best I can I could never have completed my work at Lehigh without the understanding and encouragement of my wife, Aphrodite, who never stops ~istening, and I· would not be here at all were it not for men like Henry James and Jacques Derrida, who discover new ways of looking at the world iii Table of Contents Abstract Introduction Chapter I The Turn of the Screw: Exquisite Mystification, Pure Romance 1 24 Chapter II What Maisie Knew: Domestic Labyrinth and Human Frame 20 Chapter III The Ambassadors: The oblong Gilt Frame Notes Bibliography Vita iv 48 83 91 95 Abstract: My paper is a reading of three of Henry James's major novels, The Turn of the Screw, What Maisie Knew, and The Ambassadors It draws mainly upon Jacques Derrida's work on the parergon in The Truth in Painting and his essay "Outwork" from Dissemination In my paper I· argue the following:' 1)The Prologue to The Turn of the Screw is a complete frame tale, not an incomplete one, according to Derrida's notion of the parergop, and it works to re~ress the lac;:k Qt_ a beginning to the governess' snaffatTve ,alack :Ehat can be compensated for only because it must be sustained as a lack in order for the narrative to succeed as a fairy tale 2) Maisie Farange is herself a~parergonal frame in What Maisie Knew, used to compensate for the lack of decency in her parents' adtilterous relationshi~s I read these relationships as paintings that cannot sustain themselves against the strict Victorian moral code, thus requiring a frame of support Innocence in What Mais1e Knew acquires the tactile permanence of theparergon that adulthood, the ergon or work, depends upon The novel, initially simply a portrait of a frame, portrays Maisie's progress toward an adulthood that transcends immorality with amorality 3) In The Ambassadors, the Lambinet chapters (3031) form a parergonal preface This frame, separated from the work both by a lapse in time and by the imagery of "the oblong gilt frame," is a preface because it contains the great revelation, the truth that is necessary in a portrait of a "man of imagination" but incommensurable with the genre of realism This preface also redresses the lack of action in the novel due to what I call the Paris esthetic Action, like truth, is out of place in the Parisian society James illustrates but necessary in a "drama of discrimination," a drama that requires a climax The novel, in short, has its climax in its preface, and my paper is an exploration of this peculiar design This essay is a tribut~ to the importance of the marginal in literature and philosophy and to the genius of James and Derrida 1 / FRAMES IN JAMES: THE TURN OF THE SCREW, V/HAT MAISIE KNEW, AND THE AMBASSADORS Paul Gorman Beidler The truth is that 'what a happy thgught has to give depends immensely on the general turn of the mind capable of it, and on the fact that its loyal entertainer, cultivating fondly its possible relations and extensions, the bright efflorescence latent in it, but having to take other things in their order too, is terribly at the mercy of his mind That organ has only to exhale, in its degree, a fostering tropic air in order to produce complications almost beyond reckoning The trap laid for his superficial convenience resides in the fact that, though the relations of ahuman figure or a social occurrence are what make such objects interesting, they also make them, to the same tune, difficult to isolate, to surround with the sharp black line, to frame in the square, the circle, the charming oval, that helps any "arrangement of objects to become a picture Henry yames, Preface to The Awkward Age 1 Introduction: James's "The Art of Fiction,,,2 a critique of another essay of the same'name by Sir Walter Besant,3 argues that the novel is free of all standards and sUbject to no set of requirements that the critic may wish to impose upon it James was against an ~ exact method( grammar, or science of fiction, and his only advice to a pupil who asked for the rudiments of writing would be "'Ah, well, you must do it as you can!'" (HJ 50): The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting That general responsibility rests upon it, but it is the only one I can think of (HJ49) 2 \ James's project in "The Art of Fiction," as in his other essays and his novels, was to show that fiction is as fine an art as painting, and his vehicle for communicating this message is'his insistence upon "the analogy·between the art of the painter and the art of the novelist" (HJ 46), an analogy he sees as complete Painting, like philosophy, is the "sister art" of fiction (HJ 46), and it seems to me to give [the novelist] a great character, the fact that he has at once so much in common with the philosopher and the painter; this double analogy is his magnificent heritage (HJ47) Like a painting, James writes, the novel simply "stands there " before you, in the honesty of pink and green and a gilt frame" (HJ 48) • It is fiction's affinity with painting and philosophy that makes an esthetic reading of James's novels especially pertinent, and James's fascination with the marginal and subordinate makes a Derridian interpretation of his novels a fruitful one, as evidenced by the recent work of Shoshana Felman, Julie Rivkin, and others particularly relevant is Derrida's essay "The Parergon" in The Truth in Painting, a deconstruction of Kant's implied hierarchy of work over frame in the third critique and an anatomy of a philosophical category of art works that require frames for their completion Traditional est~etics~has assumed a hierarchy in which the' painting, the work of art, is of primary importance, but this hierarchy is turned upsidedown in Derrida, where attention ls focused on the frame rather than the painting, 3 ' FRAMES IN JAMES the preface rather than the book, and the marginal rather than the primary I will argue here that the marginal is also of primary importance in James's novels, often attaining primacy , , itself over the course of a novel I will explore this peculiarly primary marginality in The Turn ,of the Screw, What Maisie Knew, and The Ambassadors I The Turn of the Screw: Exquisite Mystification, Pure Romance Interest in the frame as a structural element in James's fiction has focused mainly on the Prologue to The Turn of the Screw, the only one of his major works that is explicitly framed Alexander E Jones writes that the frame is simply a typical "parenthetical device" used to make the reader "suspend his broaddaylight commonsense disbelief and enter the mood of the story" (Jones 112), but this view has been much questioned in recent decades by critics who read the Prologue as an incomplete frame 4 Susan Crowl rejects this view of the Prologue as what she calls a "detachable stereotype" (Crowl 111)' and reads the, frame as being, intimately connected to the story but incomplete and problematic, calling it "a halfframe which is full of 4 FRAMES IN JAMES suggestive, if veiled, commentary on the story to follow" (Crowl 108)~, Crowl writes: In my view, the form is left unfinished in'this way in order to leave unfinished to our jUdgement the questions which occur in turn to the governess, to Douglas, and~to James (Crowl 110) , Crowl argues that the form of the novella is echoed ironiQally by the "double frame and subtle shifting of identity" in the story itself (Crowl 114): "The form of the story, an introductory' frame and tale within a tale, is similarly consistent and I repetitive in the nested inversions of reality and storybook romance which are the governess' attempt at a perspective on her shifting experiences at Bly" (Crowl 122~~ William Goetz takes " much the same position In a recent article entitled "The 'Frame' of TheTurn of the Screw: 0Framing the Reader In," Goetz· discusses the Prologue to the tale, "an exemplary scene by which James tells us how to read the tale" (Goetz 71), and its function as a framing device He concludes that "the 'frame' of The Turn , of the Screw is aSYmmetrical" (Goetz 73) We expect an epilogue, Goetz claims, that will explain the text that the Prologue has introduced, a completion of the frame: "The 'frame' shows us thro~gh its incompleteness that there is no easy recourse to an ,author, whether implied or real, just as for the governess herself there'is to be no recourse to: the Master" ('"'' perhaps, Douglas ll In most novels, of course, this pastbefore thepast remains outside the scopeof the storynovels generally begin on page one like James's What Maisie Knew, which begins with a straightforward introduction to the main characters,12 but in TheTurn of the Screw the beginning is supplanted by a lack of a beginning In The·Turn of the'Screw, part of this past is recovered by the frame Douglas's 'prologue' has the odd effect of making it unclear to the reader exactly where the story starts; the first sentences of the governess's narrative seem to imply that others once came before them This 'prologue,' which he deems necessary but wh~ch we must simply accept, is not given to us directly, but is rather summarized by the narrator after the fact The invisible 'prologue,' given to us indirectly, is a hole in the frame, a gap between the Prologue to the novella and the actual manuscript The 'prologue' is that strange and 14 FRAMES IN JAMES imperceptible place where the frame overlaps and intertwines with the story proper, where all horizon lines fade into the distance James jUdged his "amusette" much better framed than consistent and complete The Preface to the New York edition of the novella, which begins by denouncing "mere 'modern' psychical case[s]~ like that with which the Prologue begins and which it promises the tale itself will transcend (Preface 118) James's Preface makes it clear that anything added to the story itself would have destroyed not only the confessional tone but also the unity, t:he "perfect homogeneity" of the tale (1'S 117): On the surface there was nit much, but another grain, none the less, would have spoiled the precious pinch addressed to its end as neatly as somemodicum extracted from an old silver snuff box and held between finger and thumb (Preface 118) The tension of the story depends on its starting where the action starts When James first heard the story from the Archbishop of canterbury,13 it was merely a "shadow of a shadow" (TS 118), arid his intention was for it to remain obscure through "the process of adumbration" with which he expanded his shadow into a novella (TS 122) The extra information, the l'fact[s] to be in possession of," could not be communicated by the story itself and had to remain, in James's view, detached But the Prologue is also illdetachable, and the reasons for 15 FRAMES IN JAMES this are more complicated James liked nothing better than a good fairytale: he"writes in the Preface to "The Altar of the Dead" that "the 'ghoststory,' as we for convenience call 'it, has ever been for me the most probable form of the fairytale" (AN 254) In the Preface to The Turn of the Screw he writes that The charm of, all these [fairy tales] for the distracted modern mind is in the clear field of experience, as I call it, over which we are thus led to roam; anannexed but independent world in which nothing is right save as we rightly imagine it (Preface 119) The world of fairy tales, a "clear field of experience • annexed and independent," is the world that James had in mind when he created The Turn of the Screw, but to be annexed and independent, this world requires a frame The world of fairy tales is thus framed, surrounded, and supported by life, just as the clear field of the governess's story of the children and the ghosts, "a fairy tale pure and simple" (TS 119), is framed by a lively Christmas Eve of story telling, adrama of the circle, one winter afternoon, round the hallfire of a L grave old countryhouse where (for all the world as if to resolve itself promptly and obligingly into convertib~e, into "literary" stuff) the talk turned to apparitions and nightfears, to the marked and sad drop in the general supply of such commodities (TS 117) The romance of the fairy tale is emphasized and heightened by juxtaposition with the drama of the frame The story is framed for the same reason that it is ambiguous: to exaggerate the rom~nce of the story and prevent it from becoming a drama, "a mere modern psychical case" 16 FRAMES IN JAMES On another level, the reason that the Prologue is necessary involves the differences between speech and writing Goetz writes that the main difference between the Prologue and the 'story itself is that the former is oral and therefore privileged, the latter merely written By claiming that tbe oral Prologu~ is privileged over the story itself, which is merely written, Goetz invokes the traditional hierarchy of the primacy of speech that deconstruction has rebelled against: he claims that the story proper depends upon the oral flexibility of the Prologue I· argue, however, that if a hierarchy is to be invoked this solid inaccessibility is evidencemore of the primacy of writing than of speech The Prologue is a noisier and more dramatic piece of ,' writing than the story it prefaces When the Prologue begins, the manuscript, which the narrator has entitled The Turn of the Screw, is inaccessible, impenetrable, and silent, in "a locked drawer" (TS2), and it must be made accessible by Douglas's servant in town This impenetrability is a feature of all writing, and the juxtaposition of the tale with the Prologue emphasizes it The Prologue, like the story, is also a written account, written down long after the events it describes take place It describes an oral encounter with the impenetrability of writing, as does the story itself, in which letters that should be written simply are not and letters that are written are ei ther not read or misinterpreted 14 The permanence and incompleteness of writing are thus celebrated in James's story as 17 FRAMES IN JAMES is the amb\~uous terror of the fairy tale, and the aUdience, who keep interrupting Douglas with annoying oversimplifications, are repressed and ancillary in the text; most of them are phased out of the text altogether: The departing ladies who said they would stay did nIt, of course, stay: they departed in a rage of curiosity (TS 4) Douglas does his best to ignore the excitement ofthe women:"He took no potice of her," the narrator recalls after one of them interrupts, "he looked at me, but as, if, instead of me, he saw / what he spoke of" (TS 2) Douglas soon becomes absorbed by the story he reads, ignoring the women and their impertinent comments and even ignoring the narrator, whom he cJ,early has some reason \ to respect above the others in the group 15 Even Douglas himself disappears: as the narrator summarizes Douglas's 'prologue,' Douglas is himself absdrbed into oblivion by the manuscript he reads, and soon after the Prologue itself disappears, absorbed into the text and forgotten: It disappears, buries itself, effaces itself, melts away at the moment it deploys its greatest energy (TP61) It is appropriate that James's greatest ghost story is a text in which the written word~ like death, is dominant and speech, the living drama of the frame, is dispensable The purpose of the juxtaposition, though, is less to sustain a hierarchic relationship between writing and speech (or, from the reader's point of view, between reading and listening), than to , 18 FRAMES IN JAMES unite them, to fuse them The effect is a combined text with the permanence of a manuscript and the immediacy of a fireside ghost story_ This fusion of writing and' speech, spiced with a vague touch of the pastpertect, is accomplished in the last line of the Prologue: But Douglas, without heeding me, had begun to read with a fine clearness that was like a rendering to the ear of the beauty of his author's hand, (TS 6) The frame(of James's The Turn of the Screw thus fits much better than critics have claimed It is not perfect, of course: One of the mysteries of the novella, as GrahamMcMaster points out, is the question of whether the governess is ever punished for her failure to prptect the children and how she supported herself thereaftershe would have needed, one would imagine, letters of recommendation to have gotten the job as governess to Douglas's sister These details, unlike the nature of the ghosts, are facts that Douglas surely would have known, but he gives no answers The Prologue as parergon, however, is complete and effective; if nothing else, it raises so manymore questions than it answers that one is forced to reread the Prologue after finishing the tale, and thus serves as an epilogue as well The Prologue thus heightens th~ ending of the tale and eliminates the need for a beginning; an illdetachable detachment it frames ~he immediacy of the story and accentuates it while providing necessary background information in away that does not encroach uponthe story 19 \ FRAMES IN JAMES II " What Maisie Knew: Domestic Labyrinth and Human Frame James's Preface to Maisie discusses the planning stages of the novel in painterly terms: "Sketchily clustered even, these elements gave out that vague pictorial glow wh~ch forms the first appeal of a living 'subject' to the painter's consciousness" (Preface 24) I have tried to clarify above the delicacy with which The Turn of the Screw is framed by its Prologue My 'thesis here is that the r~lationship between ergon and parergon, or work and frame, is afundamental one that exists in What Maisie Knew in the form of relationships between people within the novel instead of between discernible physical elements of the work of art itself I am thus making 'a jumpfrom the outside to the inside of the text that will reveal, among other things, that human frames are just as effective as esthetic ones Reading The Turn of the Screw and What Maisie Knew together, perhaps because they were written at much the same time,16 yields surprising results with implications that illuminate the readings , of each separately My reading of the latter will Qegin with the, extent to which the situation of The Turn of the Screw is 20 FRAMES IN JAMES reversed in it: Maisie is also a child whose absent parents are replaced by governesses, but her story is seen from the point of view of the child, rather than f~om that of the governess In the early chapters Maisie's parents and governesses are as bizarre as the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw What Maisie Knew thus begins as a ghost story, its eerie "turn of the screw" being that Maisie cannot even see the ghosts that haunt her existen~e The point at which Maisie comes to realize the ghastliness of her guardians, which I will call the fairytale section, is thus t~e major turningpoint of the novel There;is much laughter in the novel, most of it directed at Maisie Maisie is a clown, "a figure mainly to be laughed at" (WMK 50), and the adults around her, particularly the gentlemen,' never tire of picking on her: They pulled and pinched, they teased and tickled her; some of them even, as they termed it, shied things at her, and all of them thought it funny to call her by names having no resemblance to her own (WMK 57) Maisie is batted back and forth like a "shuttlecock" by her parents (WMK 42), and to their friends she is a plaything Their laughter supplies her with an identity, as if she were perpetually on stage, and no one laughs more often than Sir Claude, whose laughter, to Maisie, "was an indistinguishable part • of the sweetness'of his being there" (WMK 70)17 'Ironically in a book about knowledge and the death of childhood, 18 the adults laugh hardest when Maisie knows something she shouldn't: "Even 21 FRAMES IN JAMES her profundity had left a margin for a laugh" (WMK 80) Her knowledge, which she has no idea she even possesses, is what makes her so funny to the adults around her The viciousness of the humor of the early chapters, however, derives from the fact that Maisie herself does not get any of the' jokes 19 These early chapters are laden with irony that seems heavyhanded and: almost clumsy, on a first reading: we are told again and again that Maisie's parents' divorce unites them far more effectively than their marriage ever did and that each basks in the infamy of the affair Maisie's parents' attitudes toward her are exactly reversed after the ,divorce: now each pushes Maisie toward the other instead of tugging her away as they had done during the litigation: w [Ida's] conscience winced under the acuteness of a candid friend who had remarked that the real end of all their tugging would be that each parent would try to make the little girl a burden to the other" (WMK 46) The result of these rolereversals is that contradiction comes to appear natural to Maisie; she is young and has no basis on which to object to them She comes to accept contradictions and to be comfortable with irony and paradox Maisie does not distinguish between truth and fiction: "She was at the age for which all stories are true and all conceptions are stories The actual was the absolute, the present alone was vivid" (WMK 42) Since the irony of her situation is too overwhelming for her ever to perceive it as such, she accepts it, acquiring 22 FRAMES IN JAMES the positive certitude, bequeathed from afar by Moddle, that the natural way for a child to have her parents was separate and successive, like her mutton and her pudding or her bath and her nap (WMK 44) The pleasure the reader takes in her situation is a pleasure from which Maisie herself is excluded, and she accepts the string of almost preternatural governesses to whom she is subjected without doubt, suspicion, or regret A catalogue of the adults in Maisie's life is enough to show their similarity to the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw After the divorce Maisie's world takes on a strangeness that she herself can hardly appreciate "Her little world was phantasmagoricstrange shadows dancing on a sheet" (WMK 41),21 but the shades and the 'forms are all the same to Maisie, who has no idea that she is buried in the depths of Plato's cave The first ghostly governess to drift into her ew life after Moddle, who had taken care of her before the divorce, is Miss Overmore, "on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly c~nscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tuckedin and kissedforgoodnight feeling" that she had been accustomed to with Moddle (WMK 50) Miss Overmore, "the pretty one" (WMK 52), rolls her eyes at Maisie afid is simply beautiful, like the children in The Turn of the Screw Maisie seems aware that, like Miles and Flora_ there is something strange abouther, but she accepts this strangeness without question Miss Ov~rmore is thus Maisie's introduction to both the social ambiguity of the 23 FRAMES IN· JAMES station of governesses in latevictorian England and the ambiguity of Maisie's own standing in the family Maisie knows that Miss Overmore is "a lady, and yet aWfully poor," as was often the case with victorian governesses, and she knows also that "nurserygovernesses were only for little girls who were not, as she said, 'really' little" (WMK 44) Miss Overmore is less bizarre than some of the other guardians Maisie is to have, but through her Maisie is introduced to the strange reality that lurks behind the appearances she is presented with: Maisie is unaware of the real reason that Miss Overmore follows her to Beale's household and of the strange relationship she is to have with Maisie's father under the guise of an employment that "he appreciates immensely" (WMK 47)22 She does seem to know, however, and to accept, that there is a real reason that she is not to know about: "Everything had something behind it: life was like a long, long corridor with rows of closed doors She ! had learned that at these doors it was not wise to knock" (WMK 54) • The eerie quality of Maisie's other gGvernesses is clear to " her: "She vaguely knew, furthermore, somehow, that the future was still bigger than she, and that part of what made it so was the number of 90vernesses lurking in it ready to dart out" (WMK 44) And dart out they do Before MISs Overmore joins Beale rarange's household permanently, Maisie is taken briefly into the 24 ', \; FRAMES IN JAltES hands of "a fat dark lady with a foreign name and dirty fingers," a "strange apparition" that "faded before the bright creature whb had braved everything for Maisie's sake" (WMK 47) Miss Overmore is next, and she is then replaced at Ida's by the motherly Mrs Wix, a "horrid beetle," who, with her diadem, her "dingy rosette like a large button," and her "straighteners" (WMK 49),23 is present to Maisie even in her absence throughout the novel: Her very silence became after this one of the largest elements of Maisie's consciousness; it proved awarm and habitable air, into which the child penetrated farther than she ever dared to mention to her companions Somewhere in the depths of it the dim straighteners were fixed upon her; somewhere out of the troubled little current Mrs wix intently waited (WMK 60)M ! Mrs wix is upstaged by the most phantasmagoric ghost of all, "little dead Clara Matilda, who, on a crossing in the Harrow Road, was knocked down and crushed to death by the cruelest of hansoms" (WMK 49) Clara, Maisie's "little dead sister" who "wasn't a real sister, but that only made her more romantic," takes on a ghostly reality to Maisie, who "knew everything about her that could be known, everything she had said or done in her little mutilated life" (WMK 49) Clara is as present to Maisie's fecund imagination as any of her governesses are, and Maisie seems to accept her as amember of tQe family, just as she , accepts her obviously flawed governesses without question Even Lisette, her doll, comes alive, and Maisie builds a world of mystery and ambiguity for her that reflects her own 25 :<} FRAMES IN JAMES These governesses are real to Maisie in their incoherence, like the "intensive particulars" that, according to Jean Frantz Blackall, comprise Maisie's consciousness of the world (Blackall 133) The point is not so much that they are ghostly as that they are ghastly, like monsters in a romance, and would doubtless appear so to Maisie if she had not grown up surrounded by them She accepts reality and fiction together as equals and does not distinguish between them or prefer one to the other Her world, like Bly, is teeming with ghosts, but Maisie, unlike the governess in The Turn of the Screw, is too innocent to object to them Maisie's parents remarry, and out of this world of phantoms a framelike structure emerges, a neat quincuncial system of tugs and shoves, and in a sense Maisie's four parents and stepparents, who are always trying to "square" each other, forma frame around our portrait of Maisie What Maisie lacks and desperately needs, of course, is parents, and' if Maisie's guardians performed the roles that they pretend to perform, they would constitute a frame But all these possible parents are replaced by gh~stly governesses: "Parents had corne to seem vague, but governesses were evidently to be trusted" (WMK 59) We would like to see Maisie nurtured and supported by some combination of her guardians and buttressed by them like a painting is braced and sustained by its frame, but she derives none of the benefits of a 26 ' FRAMES IN JAMES frame from them ' If Maisie is ever framed by her parents' remarriages, the affair between Mrs Beale and Sir Claude begins to erode the frame as soon as it is constructed Her world subdivides too quickly for Maisie to cQoose sides; she Is simply in the middle, surrounded by the chaos of adultery: If it had becomenow, for that matter, a matter of sides, there was at least a certain amount of evidence as to where theyallwere Maisie, of course"in such a delicate position, wason nobody's; (WMK 93) Maisie's frame is a fluid one; as soon as her parents remarry their marriages begin to deteriorate~ Maisie is given the credit for bringing her stepparents together, just as she "did it" to Mrs Beale and her father (WMK 74), but she is actually no t more than "a jolly good pretext" (WMK 154) that the adults cling to in order to prevent the world from seeing whattheyar~ really doing 26 The search for a frame in What Maisie Knew thus reveals' that Maisie does not receive the care and support that 'she needs and that normal parergonal parents would provide for her ~ Maisie's own role, I suggest, is that of a parergon: she is not an integral part of the family, but, she frames it Though Maisie does not understand her father's relationship with Miss Overmore, she does see that she' is herself the "awfully proper reason" that they are able to contrive the arrangement (WMK 53)' Miss Overmore's presence in the Farange household depends upon Maisie: Shewas in a false position and so freely and loudly called 27 FRAMES IN JAMES attention to it that it seemed to become almost a source of glory (WMK 56) Though Maisie is unwanted, she is necessary; the family would collapse without her Like the frame of a painting, Maisie appears from a distance to be a p~rt of the family, but from ~ within it she is a complication for which there is no place; she is an excluded but necessary pretext Maisie, like the column that holds up a building, ,i~ both necessary and oblivious to the goingson inside She is a parergon, "the great alternativ~ to the proper" (WMK 58) without Maisie, her father and Miss Overmore will be exposed as adulterers The lack that necessitates the frame, then, is simply the lack of decency A presence is required to atone for this absence of decency, and Maisie is that presence ~ In What Maisie Knew, I suggest, James portrays a world·in which adults use each other without scruple Innocence is , ~~ parergonal in What Maisie Knew because it is so useful, and we \ can thus draw a parallel between adulthood, which collapses under the weight of its own constraints, and the painting thah requires a frame in order to be presentable Adulthood is thus incomplete: it cannot sustain itself or realize its mor1 ideal without the pretext of a frame Dennis Foster has this incompleteness in mind when he writes of Mrs Beale that "when e speaks, her language betrays the attempt of the unconscious to erase the conflict between socially acceptable and socially unacceptable roles, between wife and mistress" (Fqster 212) The· 28 FRAMES IN JAMES inside of the work, actual family life, is not compatible with the outside, strict victorian morality, and'thus they must be separated and reconciled by a frame Maisie is that frame, and the best we can say of her in the early chapters of the novel is that she is a brilliant one; she is successful in making her , parents worthy of our attention AS James remarked in the Preface, The great thing is indeed that the muddled state too is one of the very sharpest of the realities, that it also has color and form and character, has often in fact abroad and rich comicality, many of the signs and values of the appreciable v (Preface 30) All this time, of course, Maisie's education is being neglected, but this unfortunate consequence of her parergonality is rationalized away by her guardians: Mrs Beale exclaims to her, "'It isn't as if you didn't already know everything, is it, love?'" (WMK 80) Maisie's apparent innocence is what makes her so valuable, but it is assumed from the start that Maisie has no real innocence and never has had any What she derives from her experience of life, then, is "an innocence saturated with' knowledge" (WMK 150) Since she does not yet completely understand the motivations of her elders, her education consists not of knowledge at all but of a fine sharpening of her ability ~ to deal with ambiguity: she learns to reason with ghosts Maisie is the margin between the lnside and the outside of her f~IY, and as such she is distant from both, a lonely child kept upstairs Maisie is surrounded, as Paul Armstrong has observed, 29 FRAMES IN JAMES by "a prison of ambiguity" (Armstrong 520), by the irony of jokes she does not understand 28 She is at home in the midst of ambiguity and nothing makes her shine so brightly, but a prison is not a frame~ Maisie is separated from the irony of her situation in the first half of the novel as if by a pane of glass, and she has the feeling that she is watching her story unfold through awindow: So'the sharpened sense of spectatorship was the child's main support, the long habit, from the first, of seeing herself in discussion and finding in the fury of itshe had had a glimpse of the game of footballa sort of compensation for the doom of a peculiar passivity It gave her often an odd air of being present at her history in as separate a manner as if she could only get at experience by flattening her nose against a pane of glass (WMK 101) The image of Maisie with her nose against the glass is repeated in Chapter 15, where she still feels "as if she were flattening her nose upon the hard windowpane of the· sweetshop of knowledge" (WMK 120) Maisie is separated from her own history by an invisible barrier in the same way that a frame is separated from a painting by a crack The action of the novel is vague and implied, ,it recedes into the background Our attention is focused on Maisie, who understands fully none of her parents· actions but at the same time is a pretext for them What Maisie Knew is thus in esthetic terms a painting of a frame Many critics of What Maisie Knew have focused their attention on the end of the bQOk, looking at the choice Maisie ev~ntually makes and trying to·ascertain whether or not Maisie 30 FRAMES IN JAMES develops a moral sense 29 I will argue that she Qoes develop one, but I want to focus first on the portion of the novel that comes just ~efore the end, Chapters 1721, which I will call the fairytale section This section is the turning point of the novel: it is here that Maisie ceases to be necessary to her parents, whereupon they both return to her to enact a ceremony of detachment from thelr daughter, a ceremony in which Maisie is an active participant Maisie is thus left behind like a frame without a picture Her perception of the world begins to change during the 'tumultuous fairytale section of the book, a section that Maisie herself recognizes as "a new phase" (WMK 137) 'The sUbject of this section is "the inevitable shift of her point of view" (Preface 28) It begins with the trip to the Great Exhibition in Earl's Court, "an extemporized expensive treat" (WMK 146), and ends with the migration to France It is like a dream vision for Maisie, in which the phantasmagoric world of her early childhood returns to torment her The glass barrier of her innocence gradually disappears and Maisie's parents, hitherto distant, return to her like the bizarre characters in the stories of her childhood, suddenly near enough to touch Her parents and her childhood return together, as it were, as if to say goodbye 30 strange tales and stories have formed a large part of Maisie's education: Maisie, we are reminded in Chapter 17, 31 FRAMES IN JAMES had been in thousands of storiesall Mrs wix's and her own, to say nothing of the richest romances of the French Elise­ but she had never been in such··a story as this The Arabian Nights had quite closed round her From this minute that pitch of the wondrous was in everything (WMK 145) sir Claude is "her good fairy" (WMK 136), and the money the countess tosses to Maisie is "too much even for a fee in·a fairy tale" (WMK 159) After the EXhibition, in the countess's house, Maisie finds a surreal world of colors and flowers, of silence and light, and of feathers and chocolates Maisie is awed by the turbulent changes her world is going through, and in the chaos she sees for the first time those around her, particularly her parents, as the monsters they are Thomas Jeffers, citing Martha Banta, has written of the fairytale chapters that "the Shakespearean 'green world' metamorphoses into a Jacobean funny terrible freak show, a debased amusement park inhabited not by simple nymphs but by bejeweled nymphomaniacs" (Jeffers 160)· The colorful narration corresponds directly to Maisie's increased sensitivity to the world around herunknown to the adults, Maisie is becoming more aware of her situation at the same time that it is encroaching more closely than ever upon her " The fairytale section, in which Maisie's parents, no ~onger united so neatly by their hatred of each other, return to her separately and force her to renounce them and absolve them of their guilt, is appropriately divided by a period of five days ) into two par~s, one for each parent If these chapters are 32 FRAMES IN JAMES dreamlike for Maisi~, they are a carnival of delights for the reader and constitute±he most humorous and vivid part of the novel Maisie has begun the process of transformation from a frame to a work It is thus in the fairytale sectipn that Maisie first has the chance to apply her knowledge In the first part, in the EXhibition, Beale emerges from "the Flowers of the Forest" with the Countess, awoman who "might have been a clever fri~zled poodle in a frill or a dreadful human monkey in a spangled petticoat" (WMK 15~) We have seen little more of Beale Farange (whose surname was to be "Hurter" when James originally conceived of the story) 31 than his haunting beard and teeth in the first half of the novel, but he sudden!y reappears in Ch~ter 18, where he is described as if he were a firesreathing dragon: There was a passage during which [her fathe~'s "foolish awkwardness"], ona yellow silk sofa under one of the palms, he had her on his knee stroking her'hair, playfully holding her off while he showed her his shining fangs and let her, with a vague affectionate helpless pointless 'Dear old girl, dear little daughter,' inhale the fragrance of his cherished beard She must have been sorry for him, she afterwards knew, so well could she privately follow his difficulty in being specific to her about anything (WMK 148) Beale is harmless ,_ however, defeated by the awkwardness of his guilt, and Maisie knows it Maisie clearly knows exactly what her father is trying to do with her~ but she is devoid in this passage of all the emotions she might be expected to reel in the presence of her sordid father She feels pity, but no fear or 33 •j, FRAMES IN JAMES shame: There was something in him that seemed, and quite touchingly, to ask her to help him to pretendpretend he knew enough about her life and her education, her means of subsistence and her view of himself, to give the questions he couldn't put her a natural domestic tone She would have pretended with ecstasy if he could only have given her the cue (WMK 149) Beale has never been enough a part of Maisie's life for her to regret his desertion of her; to her he is merely an associate who feels it is time to disconnect She tries, though unsuccessfully, to pretend along with her father, and she feels sympathy for his awkward predicament Maisie tries to help ease the process of his making her repudiate him as much as possible, but she feels no remorse or regret: she only understands Her father is using her, and he is frustrated by the fact that he might have been able to continue using her if things had worked " out differently: When he had lighted a cigarette and begun to smoke in her face it was as if he had struck with the match the note of some queer clumsy ferment of old professions, old scandals, oid duties, adim perception of what he possessed in her and what, if everything had onlydamn it!been totally different, she might still be able to give him (WMK 1489) The "it was as if" here and the "damn it!" indicate the extent to which Maisie is extrapolating from her father's words and make it difficult to tell just how much of his motivations she comprehends She understands, however, what her father wants her to do: he wants her to repudiate him, to free him of the obligationh~ feels to protect her, and he wants to appear magnanimous while he does it: 34 / FRAMES IN JAMES It was exactly as if he had broken out to her: 'I say, you, little booby, help me to be irreproachable, to be noble, and yet to have none of the beastly bore of it There's only impropriety enough for one of us; so you must take it all Repudiate your'dear old daddyin the face, mind you, of his tender supplications He can't be rough with youit isn't in his nature: therefore you'll have successfully chucked him because he was too generous to be as firm with you, poor ma~, as was, after all, his duty (WMK 153) This is Maisie at her coldest and sharpest: she even lies to him, promising "'I'll do anything in the world you ask me, papa'" (WMK 152) Her impression"of him is compared to "one of the pantomimes to which Sir Claude had taken her: she saw nothing in it but what it conveyed" (WMK 156) But the astounding thing is that Maisie plays along with her father's pantomime Regardless of her understanding of the nature of adultery, Maisie pities her father, proving that whatever it is that she knows, she understands him better than he has ever understood her Five days later, after a nearrevolution in her father's household, Maisie is whisked off after breakfast to Folkstone, which "swim[s] in a softness of color and sound" (WMK 164) and which is for Maisie "paradise" (WMK 170): Maisie had known all along a great deal, but never so much as she was to know from this moment on and as she learned in particular during the couple of days that she was to hang in the air, as it were, over the sea which represented in breezy blueness and with asummer charm a crossing of more spaces than the channel (WMK 162) In Folkstone she finds ecstasy and wonder, miracle and sacrifice, and her contumelious mother reappears in all her glory Maisie and her stepfather are sitting together in the garden of the 35 FRAMES IN JAMES hotel, surveying "the h~man scene" when the "apparition" appears (WMK 166): sir Claude, beside her, wa~_occupied with a cigarette and the afternoon papers; and though the hotel was full the garden showed the particular void that ensues upon the sound of the dressing bell She had almost had time to weary of the human scene;_ her own humanity at any rate, in the shape of a smutch on her scanty skirt, had held her so long that as soon as she raised her eyes they rested ona high fair drapery by which smutches were put to shame and which had glided towards her over the grass without her noting its rustle She followed up its stiff sheenup and up from the ground, where it had stoppedtill at the end of a considerable journey her impression felt the shock of a fixed face which, surmounting it, seemed to offer the climax of the dressed condition 'Why mamma!' she cried the next instant (WMK 166) If her father reappeared as a dragon, her mother arrives on the scene as a towering gliding ghost Again, however, Maisie somehow knows exactly what her mother has come to do, and she seems almost embarrassed to have caught her proud mother in the undignified position of arranging her own "renunciation: She had the positive sense of catching their relative, catching her in the act of getting rid of her burden with a finality that showed her as unprecedentedly relaxed (WMK 167) Maisie feels no resentment toward her mother for preparing to desert her; rather, she sees Ida as an attractive and desirable person worthy of sympathy and respect: [Ida's] huge eyes, her red lips, the intense marks_in hel;" face formed an eclairage as distinct andpublic as alamp set in awindow The child seemed quite to see in it the very beacon that had lighted her path; she suddenly found herself reflecting that it was no wonder the gentlemen were 36 / FRAMES IN JAMES guided (WMK 16869) Maisie feels no fear or intimidation at her mother's presence She even stands up to Ida on the issue of her precious captain, but she is not without feeling for her mother and looks' on Ida with the kindness and understanding of a grateful daughter, knowing that she had not come to box any ears or to bang any doors or even to use any language: she had come at the worst to lose the thread of her argument in an occasional dumb twitch of the toggery in which Mrs Beale's low domestic had had the impudence to serve up Miss Farange(WMK 173) Again, the phrase "as if" is used to showhow vividly Maisie understands her mother's tone; Maisie translates and explains to herself what her mother is really trying to say, just as she had done with her father: It was as if she had said in so many words: 'There have been things between uS,between Sir Claude and mewhich I' needn't go into, you little nuisance, because you wouldn't understand them (WMK 173) This is not to say, of course, that Maisie knows what these "things" between them are Again, as in the interview with her father, Maisie seems to lack a complete understanding of her mother's motivations: "her impatience itself made at instants the whole situation swim; there were things Ida said that she perhaps didn't hear,and there things she heard that perhaps Ida didn't say" (WMK 174) Maisie is interpr~ting and participat'ing r in her mother's pantomime of desertion She is aware that her role has long been that of a parergonal pretext, and she knows that she is no longer interested in playing that role She wants 37 FRAMES IN JAMES to play it quickly and meekly to the end by assisting her parents in seve:ting all connections with her She wants to "complete the good work and set her ladyship so promptly and majestically afloat as to leave the great seaway clear for the morrow" (WMK 175) Maisie has big plans for the continent, and she is relieved that her parents will no longer be around to complicate things for her Maisie sees the part she has been playing in the drama of her guardians' games, and though she may not be able to see beyond the pantomime to the rotten core of her parents' motivations, her understanding of the situation is still profoundly accurate: The relation between her stepparents had then a mysterious residuum: this was the first time she had reflected that except as regards herself it was not a relationship (WMK 141) Maisie becomes aware, in the fairytale section, that Mrs Beale and Sir Claude are lovers (WMK 16364), and this discovery helps her to understand the residuary nature of her own existence: she is simply matter remaining at the end of the process of her parents' and stepparents' manipulations of each other The works, the adulterous couples, are removed from the frame, and Maisie is left behind like a noxious byproduct, outgrown and discarded Maisie realizes that she has long been knowingly "compromised" by her parents, and though she tries to fool her parents by continuing to play the role of the unwitting victim, 38 FRAMES IN JAMES she is "much more of a little person'to reckon' with" (WMK 148) because she has learned how to deceive In the fairytale chapters Maisie, the illdetachable detachment, participates in her own "detachment" from her parents (WMK 151, 159) In these chapters Maisie ceases to be a frame The supreme irony of the fairytale section is that it is so eerie precisely because it is so real The people have not changed but Maisie has come to see them as they are, a vision that accounts for the great change in tone "The polished plate of filial superstition'" (WMK 173), like the window pane of Maisie's innocence, is fractured by her understanding of her situation, and this process of revelation is horrifying: "there was literally an instant in which Maisie sawsaw madness and desolation, saw ruin and darkness and death" (WMK 177) At the end of Chapter 20, Sir Claude is free, and Maisie shares his freedom ecstatically She is free, in her o~n eyes at least, of her wretched childhood: After dinner she smoked with her friendfor that was exactly what she thought she didon a porch, a kind of terrace, where the red tips of cigars and the light dresses of ladies made, under the happy stars, a poetry that was almost intoxicating (WMK 180) _The tone of the later chapters of What Maisie Knew is radically different from that in the beginning of the novel • • Maisie is free, and she is determined to hold on to her freedom 39 FRAMES IN JAMES The scope of the novel has expanded as a result of Maisie's new determination: townspeople, virtually absent from the early chapters, are now· described with clarity~·, The Frenchpatronne, for instance, is painted brilliantly with the exten~ed metaphor of a clock on t~e mantle: a lady turned to [Sir Claude] from the bustling, breezy hall a countenance covered with fresh matutinal powder and a bosom as capacious as the velvet shelf of a chimneypiece, over which her round white face, framed in its golden frizzle, might have figured as a showy clock (WMK 239) Even the French townspeople are characterized in flawless and affectionate detail: a very old personage with a red ribbon in his buttonhole, whose manner of soaking buttered rolls in coffee and then disposing of them in the little that was left of the interval between his nose and chin might at a less anxious hour have cast upon Maisie an almost envious spell (WMK 240) We find towards the end of the book, also, the brilliantly melodramatic dialogue that we expect from James and of which the earlier chapters are devoid 32 In Boulogne, Maisie is overcome with emotion, with "the great ecstasy of a larger impression of life" (WMK 181): She was 'abroad' and she gave herselfup to it, responded to it, in the bright air, before the pink houses, among the barelegged fishwives and the redlegged soldiers, with the instant certitude of a vocation Her vocation was to see the world and to thrill with the enjoyment of the picture (WMK 18i) No longer called upon to frame her guardians, Maisie becomes an observer and thus, perhaps unwittingly, enters the world of the 40 FRAMES IN JAMES adults Maisie finds her "initiation" (WMK 181) in the French breakfast, and she changes immediately her role in her relationship with Susan Ash, becoming an explainer as her mother had always been and showing Susan around town: "she recognized, she understood, she adored and took possession; feeling herself attuned to everything and laying her hand, right and left, on what had simply been waiting for her" (WMK 182) Ostensibly, of course, and ironically, Maisie is no longer seeing as clearly as she did in the fairytale chapters She is living a fantasy, a dream in which sir Claude is her shining knigpt and Paris is "the real thing" (WMK 182) "Her heart was not at all in the gossip about Boulogne; and if her complexion was partly the result of the dejeuner and the petits verres it was also the brave signal of what she was there to say" (WMK 186) Maisie is in France to see and to say, neither of which she ever had the chance to do as a pretext in a prison of ambiguity: she is "coming out" (WMK 230) • \ Maisie, long stuck like the frame of a picture on a different plane of existence, is conscious in Boulogneof having (\\ shed her old role as pretext and is determined to make the most of her new opportunity Her freedom, however, is shortlived She clearly cannot sustain her freedom alone, and by the time of Mrs wix's return in Chapter 22 the groundwork is already laid for ~the choice Maisie will soon have to make between the adults that 41 FRAMES IN JAMES remain Ida has sent Mrs wix to Boulogne to keep Maisie and Sir Claude decent: "'It's to keep you decent that I'm here and that I've done everything that I have done" (WMK 192) MrsWix, in other words, is now to play Maisie's usual role by framing Maisie and her stepfather from the pUblic scrutiny Mrs wix is back, "proving more of a force to reckon with than either of them had allowed so much room for" (WMK 200) She delivers her moral teachings with "an unparalle,led neigh of battle" (WMK 196) and with "a great giggling insinuating naughty slap" to Sir Claude's face (WMK 197): "'nobody, you know, is free to commit a crime'" (WMK 207), she reminds them Mrs wix is a fearless avenger with "a certain greatness" (WMK 210), fighting for Maisie's now famous "moral sense" (WMK 211) Sir Claude and Mrs Beale, on the other hand, have decidedly not changed, though they appear different to Maisie Sir Claude pays Maisie andMrs wix to let him return to Mrs Beale (WMK 199), and he pays ,Ida to cease to be Maisie's mother (WMK 228) Mrs Beale, later, uses Maisie to make Sir Claude return to Boulogne (WMK 220) Mrs Beale tries to entice Maisie with plans of a trip to the Etablissement, but Maisie is wary enough to expect little more than a repeat performance of the abortive trip to the Great Exhibition: "the francs failed like the shillings and the sideshows had set an example to the concert The Etablissement in short melted away" (WMK 227) The end of thenovel is made up of a series of scenes in 42 FRAMES IN JAMES which Mrs Beale and Sir Claude parallel the behavior of Beale and Ida in the fairytale section with uncanny accuracy Mrs Beale forces Maisie back into a role of secondary significance by glibly expla~ning the mechanics of the settlement between Sir Claude and Ida in which "'she lets him off supporting her if he'll let her off supporting you'" (WMK 228) Mrs Beale even replaces Maisie as guide to the Continent, telling stories of her childhood travels that Maisie hasheard so often in her own childhood that they have "with time become phantasmal" (WMK 227) Sir Claude, after a smooth string of lies,n confides in Maisie • • I Boulogne, but she puts off her choice until the last minute One of Maisie's alternatives is to agree to continue to frame adultery by accepting sir Claude's p~oposition, remaining "equally associated and disconnected" (WMK 258) from her stepparents in parergonal suspension above and beyond the real world Another choice Maisie co~siders, and which Sir Claude seems briefly to consider seriously as well, would make her an adulteress, at least in the eyes of the world Her fantasy is to run off to Paris with sir Claude, framed only by the newspapers and the pink and yellow novels that would serve for luggage She has a chance to fulfill this dream: She knewhow prepared they looked to pass into the train, and she presently brought out to her companion: 'I wish we could go Won't you take me?' He continued to smile 'Would you really come?' 'Oh yes, oh yes Try' 'Do you want me to take our tickets?' 'Yes, take them' 'without any luggage?' She showed their two armfuls, smiling at him as he smiled at her, but so conscious of being more frightened than she had ever been in her life that she seemed to see her whiteness as fn a glass Then she knew that what she saw was Sir Claude's whiteness: he was as frightened as herself (WMK 25354) Her fantasy remains unfulfilled, and though her fear fades into the distance with the passing train, she clings to her fantasy till the end Fortunately for Maisie there is a third alternative; she is not forced to choose between framing adulterers and becoming one 45 FRAMES IN JAMES herself MrsWix, who has sacrificed her own innocence to protect Maisie's own, protests: Don't let me pay for nothing; don't let me have been thrust for nothing into such horrors and such shames I never knew anything about them and I never wanted to know! Now Iknow too much, too much! (WMK 214) Mrs wix is thus the only person in the novel besides Maisie herself who has perceived the horrors of the fairytale chapters, and this shared perception is what links the two of them together in the end Mrs wix, also, still feels the pain of the daughter she lost to "the cruellest of hansoms" (WMK 49), and Maisie likewise has not recovered from the recent loss of her mother Maisie and Mrs wix thus both feel incomplete Maisie chooses Mrs < wix not because she loves her or because she feels the need to live a moral life, but because they will be able to act as frames for each other In the end she renounces both her fantasy and r her role as a framing device and chooses simply to be a child Maisie's choice of a mother over a business proposition is a sign, ironically, that she is growing up The beauty of Maisie 'Farange is that she never gives up She never loses faith in her perception of the world, no matter how askew her interpretation may be, retaining "a small smug conviction that in the domestic labyrinth she always kept the ' clue" (WMK 90) Maisie does not, of course, hold the key to'the labyrinth that engulfs her childhood, but her intuitive navigation of its passages is extraordinary Maisie's intuition 46 FRAMES IN JAMES brings us back to the question critics of What Maisie Knew must try to answer, which is of course suggested by the title of the novel Maisie herself sees no limits to the amount of knowledge available to her, and her handling of her parents'desertion and her choice of a fresh new attempt at childhood in the end support her conviction: the very climax of the concatenation would be the stage at which the knowledge should overflow As she was condemned to know more and more, how could it logically stop before she shoulgknow Most? It came to her in fact as they sat there on the~sands that she was distinctly on the road to know Everything (WMK 213) Inev~tably the question of Maisie's knowledge depends upon the question of her morality Foster has shown that if Maisie's guardians are immoral and Mrs Wix is moral, Maisie herself is' amoral: "Maisie's moral sense never really includes an idea of good and evil" (Foster 210)~ Maisie remains parergonal to her immoral guardians for so long because she has no morals, and is ;I thus untouched by her sordid environment The immorality of Maisie's situation is thus an ethical curse but an epistemological blessing: it allows her to grow up without the often illogical constraints of popular morality to distract her from her ideal Jeffers notes· that "she posits this ideal as one might posit the idea of aGod: it is the 'possible' she needs if she is to climb out of the fetid air of betrayal a~ recrimination she has breathed from the start" (Jeffers 167) There is no limit to Maisie's potential for knowledge, then, bec~use there is no limit p~aced upon her by morality The same 47 / FRAMES IN JAMES immorality that stifles her education launches her toward "', freedom Maisie's amorality is what allows her to endure, and it is her endurance, as Foster and others 'have noted, that we like about her III The Ambassadors: The Oblong Gilt Frame The Ambassadors may represent James's most sophisticated use of the framing device in fiction The frame of the novel, as I will show, is hidden both where one would least expect to find it and where it can play its role most profoundly: it is Chapters 30 and 31, the Lambinet chapte~s, and it contains the climax of the novel An examination of the climax, in which strether's J imagination leads to his discovery of the truth behind the "virtuous attachment" between Chad and Madame de Vionnet, shows that when what William Goetz c"alls the "fictional bounds of the text" (Goetz 187) are released, strether escapes both into art and out of it, and that strether is not wrecked·' by his , ' imagination but rather saved by it This is not to say, however, that characters do not also frame each other in this complex work 48 , FRAMES IN JAMES as they do in What Maisie Knew Human frames are at work also at work in The Afub~s~~gors, where Maisie Farange's character and her function as frame are echoed in Jeanne de Vionnet, whom many critics have neglected but who to Strether is like a beautiful work of art: r Whatwas in the girl was indeed too soft, too unknown for direct dealing; so that one could only gaze at it as at a picture, quite staying one's own hand 1 Shewas fairly beautiful to hima faint pastel in an oval frame: he thought of her already as of some lurking image in a long gallery, the portrait of a small oldtime princess of whom nothing was known but that she had died young (TA 13435, 154) Jeanne must, of course, somehow remind Strether of his son, who died a small boy, and he tries to remain as distant from his Parisian friends as he 4is from his son, as if they are pictures instead of people But though Strether views Jeanne as a picture her function in the drama is that of a frame, as Maisie's is in her own "drama of figures" (WMK 180) Jeanne de Vionnet frames her mother's relations, at least to Strether, in much the same way that Maisie frames her father's, by acting as a decoy bride tobe, and she even resembles Maisie Farange's tone with her "'Mamma wishes me to tell you before we go that she hopes very much that you'll come to see us very soon'" (TA 134) Jeanne de Vionnet is aframe, but Strether's fascination with ~er and his insistence on viewing her as a painting contrast ironically with James's own preoccupation with the parergonal and 49 \ FRAMES IN JAMES his in\erest in the relation between the work and the frame that is the focus of this essay James, I argue, clearly preferred the quiet dignity of the frame to the aUdacity of the work, and the early chapters of The Ambassadors abound with evidence of this preference 35 Lambert strether, also like Maisie, is a Jamesian hero who has been manipulated into the position of framing something more vulgar than himself strether, in the words of his friend Waymarsh, is "'a finetooth comb [used] to grooma horse'" (TA 74): "'You're being used for a thing you ain't fit for'" (TA 74), Waymarsh warns him Mrs Newsome, as if a literalization of Derrida's wheelchair metaphor,36 cannot support herself enough to realize her own desires and depends on strether in much the sameway that a work can depend ona frame: "'Everything's too much for her'" (TA 47) Strether explains Strether is being used as a proxy by Mrs Newsome, and it is thus from her entirely that he derives the strength, sustenance,and sense of purpose of his "life of utility" (TA 153) In return, of course, strether is Mrs Newsome's contact with Paris and with her son, and it is onl~ through Strether that she is able to view the action in Paris 3? strether obviously redresses a lack in Mrs Newsomewithout her l~ck of health and strength his own presence would be unnecessary Maria Gostrey observes: "'I see it, her condition, as beneath and behind you; yet at the same time I see it as 50 1_ FRAMES IN JAMES bearing you up'" (TA 47) Even before his trip to Europe, Strether wasa frame to Mrs Newsome's "Review" (TA 50), "'her tribute to the ideal'" (TA 51) His name, not hers, appears on the journal's green cover, or frame, and this frame has become Strether's "'one presentable little scrap of an identity'" (TA 51), so that he has become not an independent man of action but a static and obedient front for Mrs Newsome's endeavors: He was Lambert Strether because he was on the cover, whereas it should have been, for anything like glory, that he was on the cover because he was Lambert Strether (TA 62) Though Strether is a~ effective frame, however, he is an incomplete one because the only form of union recognized in Wool lett is the legal form In America there is no 'such luxury as the "'virtuous attachment'" (TA 112) that Chad enjoys in Paris, and so Strether can attach himself to his remarkable associate only through marriage Strether endures his subordinate framelike position partly because of what Sarah Pocock calls his "essential inaptitude" (TA 105) ,38 but mostly because he hopes to be remunerated for his efforts with marriage to the matriarch herself He hopes, in short, to attach himself to Mrs Newsome and become a permanent frame, and his success in this endeavor will depend on his success in Paris' But The Ambassadors is much more fl~id a novel than the quincuncial What Maisie Knew, and Strether, like Jeanne, soon loses interest in framing another person's inadequacies His failure hitherto to 51 FRAMES IN JAMES marry Mrs Newsome soon becomes his triumph and saving grace When he arrives in Paris, strether's goal of permanent, secure subordinance is transformed by the taste of freedom, that elusive ideal, into a need to become "appreciable,,39 himself The novel follows the thread of Strether's journey to primacy, his quest to become, in Madame de Vionnet's words, "'an object of int~rest'" (TA 320) Strether, "the hero of the ~rama" (TA 265), comes to see the world as a play in which his friends perform for him while he sits idly by and appreciates, and it is necessary at the outset / to set the scene of that drama and to describe the situation Strether glides naIvely into on his arrival in Paris Drama is the metaphor through which much of the meaning of The Ambassadors is expressed~ Strether is an observer, or so he believes, seeing only what walks onto the stage of Parisian society in front of him, and he is left to guess about what it all means In London Strether goes with Maria Gostrey to plays in the evening, and the stage, a world oftypes, becomesa metaphor of his experience of Europe: It was an evening, it wasa world of types, and this was a connexion above all in which the figures and faces in the stalls were interchangeable with those on the stage (TA 43) The only "types" Woollett had recognized were "the male and the o female" (TA 44), and thus people there are,distinguished from one ( another only by their spouses Strether, who has long lived 52 FRAMES IN JAMES without marital attachment, has thus liveg the undistinguished life of a parergon But "however he viewed his job" in Paris, strethermusesin theLondon theater, "it was 'types' he ,should have to tackle" in Europe (TA 44) strether is an incomplete frame, a potentiallbut as yet unattached illdetachable detachment, but he becomes aware in Europe of the emptiness at the center of his life Though he fears it may be too late, he is taking refuge in this new esthetic, his only chance for salvation in "the great desert of years" (TA 63), and he sets out "to visit unattended equivocal performances" (TA 64): , There were sequences he had missed and great gaps in the procession: he might have been watching it all recede in a golden cloud of dust If the playhouse wasn't closed his seat had at least fallen to somebody else (TA 64) strether's ideal is the ideal of the esthetic of Paris, and his espousal of it is a reaction against the crude goodandbad, rightandwrong morality of Woollett Strether describes himself as "'a perfectly equipped failure'" (TA 40), but the fact that he is a failure is what makes Strether so interesting to Maria Gostrey, whose function in the story is to enunciate what I will call the esthetic of Paris, "the shade of shyness,i (TA 96), that Strether must discover through his experience in Europe: "Thank goodness you're a failureit's why I so distinguish you Anything else today is too hideous Look about you­ look at the successes Would you be one, on your honors' (TA 40) Julie Rivkin shows that Miss Gostrey "deconstructs the literal 53 FRAMES IN JAMES system of designation Woollett supposedly embodies" (826)41 in order to introduce strether to the European system, and her use of the term "deconstruct" clarifies the sense in which the Paris esthetic and the Woollett ethic are diametrically and dialectically opposed The esthetic of Paris complicates interpretation of the story because it pr~fers failure to success This esthetic is appealing to the "man of imagination" (Preface 5) from Woollett because he is himself a failure Paris offers hima chance to revel in his failure instead of compensating for it by marrying Mrs Newsome It offers him, therefore, anew light in which to view the memories of his youth, and it has the effect of making him young again The Paris esthetic prefers failure to success because of a more fund~mental preference of potential to action, and this principle is exemplified by the pecu~iar beauty of little Bilham and enunciated again by Miss Gostrey: "He won't do the least dreadful little thing We shall continue to enjoy him just as he is No~he's quite beautiful He sees· everything He isn't a bit ashamed He has every scrap of the courage of it that one could ask Only think what he might do" (TA 87) Little Bilham, an artist whose "productive power faltered in proportion as his knowledge grew" (TA 84), is beautiful in his inactivity and is as such the perfect product of the Paris esthetic: "Bilham is ",''the best of them,'" "'so exactly right as he is'" (Til 86) Strether soonlearns that "almost any 54 FRAMES 0,IN JAMES acceptance of Paris might give one's authority away" (TA 64)­ one's authority, that is, to do anything at all The Paris esthetic is not a place of action or of ,power but a place ,where people are simply and statically "wonderful" Toward the end of the novel, when strether is most oppressed by the weight of the 'Paris esthetic, he recalls wistfully the full import of his "'Don't mention it! '" to Madame de Vionnet: it had served all the purpose of his appearing to have said to her: "Don't like me, if it's a question of liking me, for anything obvious and clumsy that I've, as they call it, 'done' for you: like mewell, like me, hang it, for anything else you choose Be for me, please, with all your admirable tact and trust, just whatever I may show you it's a present pleasure to me to think you" It had been a large indication to meet; but if she hadn't met it what had she done, and how had their time together slipped along so smoothly, mild but not slow, and melting, liquefying, into his happy illusion of idleness? (TA 30405) The emphasis here is clearly on being rather than doing and on pleasure rather than sincerity The Paris esthetic, in short, supplies strether with this "happy illusion of idleness," the illusion that he is doing nothing and having no effect on the people around him Though strether remains determined in the early chapters of the novel to carry out his orders from Woollett and to play his role as emissary, he comes to expect much more than Chad's acquiescence from his trip to Europe He embarks alone on a conscious search for his ideal, and he knows that to find truth he will have to get rid of his "odious ascetic suspicion of any form of beauty" (TAl18) 55 FRAMES IN JAMES The journey to primacy streth~barks on in Paris takes , the form of a romantic q~st for the ideal at Gloriani's party In Gloriani's garden Strether opens "all the windows of his mind" to the "assault of images" that crowns the great sculptor "with the light, with the romance, of glory" (TA 120) Strether p~rceives himself to be on trial in this scene, seeing Gloriani's smile as "a test of his stuff" (TA 121) Strether's ideal is youth, and his tribute to this ideal, his promise, to "save" Madame de Vionnet (TA 152), is his quest Stretheris absorbed into the drama of the garden, and his mode of perception blurs almost imperceptibly from the dramatic to the romantic In his Anatomy of criticism, Northrop Frye writes that romance involves an adventure, often a quest, and an enemy "associated with winter, darkness, confusion, sterility, moribund life, and old age," while the hero is conversely associated with" spring, dawn, fertility, vigor, and youth" (Frye 18788) A romance, Frye writes, is amyth in which the hero is human, not divine (Frye 188), and its culmination is "the victory of fertility oVer the wasteland" (Frye 193) My purpose is not to argue that The Ambassadors is a romance ("Subtlety and complexity are not much favored," Frye writes, and "irony has little place in a romance" [Frye 195]) but to show that Strether has begin to perceive his role in the story as that of a romantic hero Gloriani, crowned "with the light, with the romance, of 56 FRAMES IN JAMES glory" (TA 120), is the feudal king and Strether, the knight who must prove himself, sets off ona quest for his ideal The goal of Strether's romantic quest is Madame de Vionnet, the spectacular femme du monde: This [the femmes du monde] was a category our friend had a feeling for; a light, romantic and mysterious, on the feminine element, in which he enjoyed for a little watching it (TA 122) Strether is from Woollett and he knows what it means whena man and a woman involve themselves in a relationship What he know;s, exactly, is that unless such a relationship is legitimized by legal union it is bad, but Strether's quest is for the fairy queen, the only woman with whom the term "virtuous attachment" would not necessa~ily be aeuphemism Strether ignores Bilham's hint that the relationship may not be so virtuous as he imagines: Strether came round to it "They then are the virtuous attachment?" , "I can only tell you it's what they pass for But isn't that enough? What more than a vain appearance does the wisest of us know? Icommend you," the young man declared with a pleasant emphasis, "the vain appearance" (TA 124) He ignores this obviously prophetic warning because life in Paris is a romance to Strether No element of the ,great city inspires him more to wax romantic than Madame de Vipnnet, and his que~t is to rescue this femme du monde from Chad, the "brute" (TA 335):' he found himself making out, as a background of the occupant [Madame de Vionnet], some glory, some prosperity of the First Empire, some Napoleonic glamour, some dim lustre of the great legend; elements clinging still to all the' consular chairs and mythological brasses and sphinxes~ heads and faded surfaces of satin striped with alternate silk (TA 145) 57 FRAMES IN JAMES She is the object of his quest because of what she represents; with her "air of youth" (TA 127)'she embodies his ideal, and his promise to save her becomes his "constant tribute to the ideal" (TA 241), the esthetic ideal that Christof Wegelin calls "social' beauty" (Wegelin 442) Much attention has been paid to the viscosity of the imagery in The Ambassadors James Wiseshows that Strether is "a man floating between two mental reactions without a center of self knowledge or selfreliance on which to build a foundation for decision" (Wise 84) Wise concludes that strether alternates in the novel "between a series of risings and plungings" (Wise 109) and that he escapes from the Woollett morality and floats off alone at the end Reginald Abbott, more recently, has shown that the floating imagery that dominates The Ambassadors implies a reversal of the iconographical gender roles of findesiecle culture, in which floating and inactivity were associated with the feminine while flying and activity were male attributes Both these readings conclude that the water imagery in The Ambassadors is an expression of Strether's passivity, a conclusion supported by the ambivalent last line of the novel and by the way Strether seems now to be in one boat, now in another, ~ and now floating randomly or washed up on some shore 42 The~e critics, however, have overlooked the one event in which Strether acts on his own initiative, changing drastica~ly the course of 58 FRAMES IN JAMES t" future events This unique and isolated action in Chapter 31 I stands out both from the general fluidity of the novel and from the dreamlike romance 'of the Chapter itself as the climax or "peripeteia" (Lodge208)' of the book Some read the Lambinet chapters of The Ambassadors as a descent into self deception that reflects negatively on Strether's progress toward his ideal 43 I will argue, on the contrary, that the Lambinet chapters portray Strether's greatest triumph of the novel, for it is here that " Strether finally breaks free of the destructive Paris esthetic strether's break for freedom from Woollett begins as soon as he steps off the boat in Chester, but it is not finalized until the end of Chapter 27 Strether has promised himself that whatever happens in Paris he will get nothing for himself: "it was to an ideal rigour that he had quite promised himself to conform" (TA 201) He realizes that by living his ideal he has separated himself from the rest of the wQrld, and he is conscious of this separation: , His danger, at any rate, wassome concession, that would involve a sharp rupture with the actual; therefore if he waited to take leave of that actual he might wholly miss his chance (TA 201) The "actual" referred to here is America, of which Strether' himself was the representative until he is replaced by Sarah 0' Sarah represents the corporeality of human nature, which the Pococks have come to curtail with their staunch morality, and Madame de Vionnet represents an alternative to that reality Strether has shifted in The Ambassadors from "the rigors of New' 59 FRAMES IN JAMES England authority to the pleasures of Parisian experience" (Rivkin 827) Sarah Pocock has replaced Strether as ambassador of the actual,leaving him in limbo, but the rupture with the actual referred to above is not finalized until the end of Chapter 27, when Strether's break with Sarah is complete: The way he had put it to himself was~~hat all quite might be at an end Each of her movements, in this resolute rupture, reaffirmed, reenforced that idea Sarah passed out of sight in the sunny street while, planted there in the centre of the comparatively grey court, he continued merely to look before him It probably was all at an end (TA 280) But Strether, always patient, still drags his feet, taking time for extended interviews with Chad and 'Miss Gostrey before acknowledging this rupture with action We recognize the validity, of course, of F o Matthiessen's assertion that "Art puts a frame around experience in the sense of selecting a significant design, and, by thus concentrating upon it, enabling us to share in the essence without'being distracted by irrelevant details" (542) This view of the function of the frame in fiction, however, is the reader's point of view, but I am reading The Ambassadors as a drama and am thus more interested in looking at frames through Strether's eyes We are given no account of Strether's decision to leave Paris At the e~d of Chapter 29 there is a significant break in the action like that which obfuscates Isabel's marriage in The Portrait of a Lady, and when the next chapter begins, a change seems to' have taken place in Strether M We are denied all details of 60 FRAMES IN JAMES strether's decision to leave Paris for the day, and we see him only as his train approaches the station where he will disembark and begin his adventure The break is heightened by one of James's enigmatic shifts into pastperfect nar~ation, a shift that, like the past perfect at the beginning of the governess's narrative in The Turn of the Screw, indicates, the passage of time and compensates for the lack of a beginning to the episode strether / had taken the train afew days after this from a stationas well as to a stationselected almost at random; such days, whatever should happen, were numbered, and he had gone forth under the impulseartless enough, no doubtto give the whole of one of them to that French ruralism, with its cool special green, into which he had hitherto looked only through the little oblong window of" the pictureframe (TA 30001, emphasis added) A threshold has clearly been crossed during the break A gap has somehow been bridged, and Strether is entering a realm that has always been distant f~om him and sacred He has decided to devote a day to th~t French Ruralism, with its cool special green, into which he had hitherto looked only through the little oblong window of the pictureframe It had been as yet for the most part but a land of fancy for himthe background of fiction, the medium of art, the nursery of letters; practically as distant as Greece, but practically also well­ nigh as consecrated (TA 301) strether has broken with both Paris and Woollett, transcending the dialectical quagmire of thesis and antithesis His train , journey is not so much to a place as to a realm of his remembered past that he has neglected for decades since he nearly bought a Lambinet painting as a young man His memory of the painting is 61 ' FRAMES IN JAMES his ideal, and he goes to the countryside to reconstruct it:, he could thrill a little at the ·chance of seeing something somewhere that would remind him of a certain small Lambinet that had charmed him, long years before, at a Boston dealer's and that he had quite absurdly never forgotten (TA 301) strether is yearning in wishful regret, but not for the painting itself that he decided not to buy in Boston: "he never found himself wishing that th~ wheel of time would turn it up again" He wants to breathe life into the memory of it, to live and experience the painting as he could have done when he was young, and as the artist must have done in creating it Early in the novel we learn that "He wasn't there to dip, to consumehe was there to reconstruct" (TA 67), and he pursues this reconstruction of his youth actively in Chapter 30: "it would be a different thing, however, to see the remembered mixture ; resolved back into its elementsto assist at the restoration of the whole faraway hour" (TA 301) His adventure at the gallery had been a "modest" one (TA 301), but his memory of '"'the picture has "made him for amoment overstep the modesty of nature" (TA 301) by trying to reconstruct the work of art in its place of origin It is this quest to recover his ideal, the feelings of one of the few adventures of his youth, and to experience those feelings aga·in, that has motivated Strether' 5 excursion into tlle country 62 FRAMES IN JAMES On his journey away from dusty Paris, strether's memory of the painting continues to dominate his perception of the world, and he views the French countryside as a painting framed by the window of the train: The oblong gilt frame disposed its enclosing lines; the poplars and willows, the reeds and rivera river of which he didn't know, and didn't want to know, the namefell into a composition, full of felicity, within them; the sky was silver and turquoise and varnish; the village on the left was white and the church on the right was grey; it was all there, in shortit was what he wanted (TA302) When he arrives at the station, in effect, strether leaves the train through this window, stepping into the tone and texture of the painting of his youth What he finds is "the colors of life itself" (AF 65) Strether drifts into "French ruralism," into his memory of a Lambinet painting he "would have bought" (TA 301) He is absorbed by a world that is no less surreal than Maisie's in the Fairy Tale sequence Like Maisie too, though for different reasons, Strether is never farther from the truth (that adultery is the prime motivator in the 9rand drama) than he is in his encounter with romance But regardless of how far he may be from the truth, Strether has found his ideal What has happened is that Strether has been released from the bounds of fictionality Equally detached from ethic and esthetic,he is free to reconstruct the ~9hld as he·chooses Strether's idealization of the world continues throughout the day: He 63 " FRAMES IN JAMES had admired, had almost coveted, another small old church, all steep roof and dim slatecolour without and all whitewash and paper flowers within; had lost his way and had found it again; had conversed with rustics who struck him perhaps a little more as men of the world than he had expected; had acquired at a bound a fearless facility in French; had, as the afternoon' waned,a waterypock, all pale and Parisian, in the cafe of the furthest village, which was not the biggest; and had meanwhile not once overstepped the oblong'gilt frame It might have passed for finished, his drama, with its catastrophe all but reached: it had, however, none the less been vivid again for him as he thus 'gave it its fuller chance He had only had to be at last well out of it to feel it, oddly enough, still going on (TA 305) The dialectical !'drama of discrimination" (Preface 7), he observes, has been going on without him since the arrival of the Pococks, and his response is to step out into the aUdience, where he notices that his absence from the stage is hardly missed Strether's drama, he realizes, is larger and more beautiful th~n he has ever imagined, and it expands for him, opens up This epiphanic discovery, a sudden release of the pressure Strether has been under since he arrived in Europe, is exhilarating to him, and he sits back in euphoric detachment and watches the drama of the world happen in front of him: I\ it was all there, in short; it was what he wanted: it was Tremont street, it was France, it was Lambinet Moreover, he was freely walking about in it(TA 302) Strether's detachment from the world is no longer merely the reminder of his failure that it has always been, "the period of conscious detachment occupying the centre of his life, the grey desert of the two deaths, that of his wife and' that, ten years later, of his boy" (TA 43) 64 FRAMES IN JAMES strether's world, where there is "not a breath of the cooler evening that wasn't somehowa syllable of the text" (TA 306), nears consistency and completeness as he step? away from it, and the people performing on Strether's stage are "inevitable," natural," and "right" (TA 306) He discovers that it was essentially more than anything else a scene and a stage, that the very air of the play was in the rustle of the willows and the tone of the sky The play and the characters had, without his knowing it till now, peopled all his space for him (TA306) The bounds of the story, its plot and the relations between its t characters, have dissolved, indicating that Strether is in a (; dream fantasy,wandering about the countryside, seeing everything just as he would like it to be He is in a world made entirely of his own impressions, a drama near~y complete and perfect The drama Strether has been watching reaches its catastrophe at the end of Chapter 30, by wh~ch point Strether is so pleased with the vista in front of him and with his day in the countryside that his catharsis requires only a "comfortable climax" (TA 306): the confidence that had so gathered for him deepened with the lap of the water, the ripple of the surface, the rustle of the reeds on the opposite bank, the faint diffused coolness, and the slight rock of a couple of small boats attache~ to a rough landingplace hard by (TA 307) When Strether is absorbed by the frame, the story briefly becomes Strether's autobiograph~5 as ~e repays the debt he owes himself for not buying the Lambinet in his youth~ In effect, Strether is rewriting his life by trying to find in art what he 65 FRAMES IN JAMES has missed in reality The narrator is still present, perhaps more so than ever, but we are allowed to see what the story would have been like if strether were the narrator: a romance, predictably composed and tinctured with idealism, w!th a happy ending Leon Edel has written that The Turn of the Screw must be read as two different stories, one of the governess's fancy and one of fact 46 This must, of course, be true of any novel where the narrative vehicle is a center of consciousness The point of strether's quest in The Ambassadors is that these two stories must converge Lambert strether, in other words, must match his imagination with the world around him strether succeeds in making fact and fancy converge in the end, but they are never more divergent than in the Lambinet chapters The fanciful story is the immediate one that I have been describing, Strether's wishful romanticization, but the factual story, then, is the one we read, in which Strether charges with the momentum of a speeding train toward an encounter with the actual from which he has ruptured We have long detected hints as to the nature of the relationship between Chad and Madame de Viorinet, the most v obvious of which is Strether's discovery in Chapter 19 that they are both mysteriously "out of town" (TA 2QO), but strether is oblivious to these hints There is no suspense at all in Strether's version of the outing, but in ours there is no sure 66 FRAMES IN JAMES indication that Strether will survive the crash we know is imminent When Strether sees the man and the woman in the boat his constructed picture/drama is complete, and his satisfaction with his impressions rivals James's own in the Preface to the New York edition:~ It was as if these figures, or something like them, had been wanted in the picture, had been wanted more or less all day, and had now drifted into ~ight, with the slow current, on purpose to fill up the measure (TA307)48 The dissolution of the fictional bounds of the story, however, and the absorption into tpe oblong gilt frame are more than an indication that Strether is deceiving himself, though he surely is The lapse in time before Chapter 30, the pastperfect narration, and the lyrical and pastoral tone in that Chapter all poipt to the fact that the frame through which Strether has passed is no mere metaphor He has passed, more literally than we first imagine, into anew realm of being Strether is overcome with the charm of the drama around him because he has transcended it He has been absorbed through the frame into the painting he saw in Boston and is able to thrill to the lush texture of the world because he is detached from it, but at the same time he has transcended his own story, and this fact raises , a question: if Strether is in the book but not in the story, where exactly is he? He is observingthe world, looking at it as a detached and disinterested connoisseur because he is in the frame of the story Strether jumps from his story to purs in the 67 FRAMES IN JAMES Lambinet chapter He leaves his post and steps back to read his own story as it unfolds from a detached vantage point As in The Turn of the Screw, I argue that the relationship between the two stories I have been discussing in The Ambassadors is parergonal Fact and fancy are related to each other like work and frame or, more specifically, novel and preface The preface to abook is the place where the author releases himself from all pretext of fictiofl and explains his intention, and there is nothing but tradition, to dictate that the preface must be printed before the book As strether views the world through the oblong frame of the window and is thus absorbed into his memory of a painting, he unwittingly enters the frame of his own story and finds himself on the outside looking in strether has long played the role of the esthete, viewing his friends as paintings in a gallery and actors on a stage, and his imagination carries him ~n Chapter 30 into the frame itself, where he can look down on the rest of the world with the detachment of the Joycean creator, "paring his fingern'ails ,,49 It is from this new vantage point, virtually our own vantage point, that strether is able to see the true nature of the virtuous attachment The mechanics of this framing episode are crucial to an understanding of the novel, and I 'invoke Derrida once again to explore them Basically, the frame ,exists beside the work and redresses a 68 FRAMES IN JAMES lack that cannot be eliminated within the work itself, thus providing external completeness But the nature of this completeness is problematic and needs to be clarified In Derrida's Dissemination (1972), in the propaedutic chapter entitled "outwork," Derrida explores the function of the preface to a book He invokes the ancient metaphor of the world, our world as we see it, as a final and divine text that imitates nature, a text that all other texts aspire to imitate A book, then, in the tradition of western metaphysics, cannot imitate nature directly and must instead imitate the text of the world But a text itself can never be complete or allencompassing· If the world is a text, this implies that nature is somewhere incomplete, that it lacks something needed for it to be what it is, that it has to be supplemented The book comes to add itself to nature , but through this addition it must also complete nature, fulfill its essence (D 53) The book, which imitates the world, becomes a preface or frame to the world, imitating nature by redressing some incompleteness in it But the book, which aims to complete the world by prefacing it, is of course itself//incomplete Literature, then, like the world, seems to aim toward the filling of a lack (a hole) in a whole that should not itself in its essence be missing (to) itself But literature is also the exception to everything: at once the exception to the whole, the wantofwholeness in the whole, andthe exception to everything, that which exists by itself, alone, with nothing else, in exception to all A part that, within and without the whole, marks the wholly other, the other incommensurate with the whole (D 56) 69 > f FRAMES IN JAMES Like nature, literature i~ thus completed not by an alteration that would eliminate the lack (the nature analogy illustrates the futility of such an attempt) but by juxtaposition with something else The lack is not merely eliminated but made into a positive element instead of a negative one It is thus that in liThe Parergon" Derrida answers the question of whya column of a building and a garment worn by a figure in a painting are parerga: It is not because they are detached but on the contrary because they are so difficult to detach and above all because without them, without their quasidetachment, the lack on the inside of the work would appear; or (which amounts to the same thing for a lack) would not appear \ (Truth ~n Pa~nt~ng 59) The world prefaces nature, the book prefaces the world, and the preface, in the same way, frames the book The issue is not whether or not the lack appears in the work (completene?s is an impossible aim) but whether it contributes to the work or detracts from it The lack is transformed by the parergon from a negative absence to a positive one, just as Mrs Newsome's condition has become the backbone of Strether's existence when the novel begins I invoke Derrida here again because his work illustrates how the book is less an autonomous whole than a preface to another r text The book thus bears a greater resemblance to its own preface than to itself, and my thesis, that Chapters 30 and 31 of The Ambassadors in effect form a preface to the work, is an 70 FRAMES IN JAMES extension of Derrida's argument into the realm of fiction We must isolate the lack in the work that 'would necessitate such a preface Rivkin, who reads The Ambassadors in terms of Derrida's logic of the supplement, mentions the lack in her explanation but makes no attempt to isolate any fundamental lack in the novel that might necessitate supplementation The most obvious lack at the center of The Ambassadors, of course, is the truth, the nature of the "virtuous attachment," the truth that we as readers are privy to but to which strether is blind except for much of the novel Strether searches for the truth of the virtuous attachment, never finding it but drawing ever closer with the graceful diligence of an aSYmptotic curve Strether's convergence upon his aSYmptotic ideal would violate the rigor of realism He is an eld~rly man from Woollett, Massachusetts, and it would not be realistic for him to fully understand his place in the world The Lambinet scene is a revelation, but a revelation is something we interpret, not a discrete literal message disclosing the answer to a problem The truth has no place in a realistic text, but at the same t~me it is unavoidable here because the SUbject of the portrait, Lambert strether, is in search of the truth Strether's nature as a "man of imagination" necessitates the truth, but a realistic portrait forbids its encroachment upon the unity of the composition In a sense, then, the lack is the truth, and since this truth must be both 71 present to and detached from the work, it must be disclosed in a frame or preface The chapters can be called a preface because they disclose, in a completely different style and mode than the rest of the novel, a truth that cannot be expressed in the work \This truth, like those truths that fill the prefaces in The Art of the Novel, must therefore be excluded But there is another more fundamental lack in the text that is redressed in Chapter 31 as an effect of this disclosure of truth, the lack of action, and this inaction is the main premise of the Paris esthetic I hav~ described above As I have argued, action is vulgar under the Paris esthetic, and beauty is found in one's potential, not one's endeavors Action is what makes Waymarsh so increasingly unappealing to Strether as he wanders deeper into Parisian culture All action in strether's Paris is performance, which, like sacrifice, is action that merely pays tribute to an ideal The only real action in the novel before the Lambinet,chapters is strether's "'Live all you can; it's a mistake not to'" speech (TA 132), and even this action is a passive and pitiful one The speech, which has been taken by many critics of The Ambassadors, including, at least ostensibly, James himself, at its face value, is actually evidence of how confused strether is by the party in Gloriani's garden He tells little Bilham, "It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life If you haven't had that, what 72 FRAMES IN JAMES have you had? This place and these impressionsmild as you may find them to wind a man up so; all my impressions of Chad and of people I'ye seen at his placewell, have had their abundant message for meI see it now I haven't done so beforeand now I'm old; too old at any rate for what I see Oh I do see, at least; and more than you'd believe or I can express It's too late And it's as if the train had fairly waited at the station for me without my having had the gumption to know it was there" (TA132) Strether's message is clearly that he can see now what he should have done when he was young and that Bilham must do things now before he is too old do anything at all Bilham naturally assumes that it is Gloriani whom Strether "should enjoy being like" (TA 133) because Gloriani is a successful artist, but Strether is dazzled by Gloriani more because he is successful than because he is an artistGloriani has lived Strether's message is misinterpreted by Bilham, the Paris esthete who seems to have heard not "live all you can" but "see/all you can": "Didn't you adjure me, in accents I shall never forget, to see, while I've a, chance, everything I can?and really to see, for it must have been that only you meant" (TA 165) with the exception of the "'Live all you can'" speech, the novel is virtually devoid of action on Strether's part, and thus his only action before Chapter 31 is less an action than a sentimental speech'about action, and one that is interpreted to be a speech about inaction "'I'm a 'case of a reaction against a mistake,'" Strether tells his "'happily and hatefully young'" friend (TA 132), but he is surprised to find in little Bilham's solemnity "a contradiction of the innocent gaiety [he] had wished to promote" (TA 132) The Paris esthetic is a morass of 73 FRAMES IN JAMES passivity and an abyss of inactivity, and this speech is its low " point; it is here, though he does not see it, that strether touches b'bttom The only action of the novel, the only real transitive verb in asummary of the plot, comes at the beginning of Chapter 31 When strether realizes that Chad and Madame de Vionnet are in the boat below him, he sees that "what it all came to had been that fiction and fable were, inevitably, in the air" (TA 311) He is able to see that his friends have been withholding details from ' pim because he has stepped out of the story, as they have, and has surprised them out of costume The catastrophe, the revelation to Strether of the identities of the boaters, is "a sharp fantastic crisis that had popped up as if in a, dream" (TA 308), and Strether's realization puts him in command for the first time in the novel Knowing that the others are not sure whether he has recognized them, he has the power to decide the future of his relationship with Chad and Madame de Vionnet From his newvantage point he is able to decide either to be absorbed into the esthetic of Paris or to repudiate it, and he must make his choice in seconds If he decides to play the game of Paris by pretending not to have seen them, ie, by doing nothing, he will possess a secret about them and will be able to observe their attempts to disguise what he knows now to be the truth about their relationship This alternative would seem a tempting 74 ,) FRAMES IN JAMES one to a man whose confidence has been used as Strether's has, but he refuses this opportunity for power, choosing instead the honest, jovial, and extravagant wave of recognition: He hereupon gave large play to [surprise and joy], agitating his hat and his stick and loudly calling outa demonstration that brought him relief as soon as he had seen it answered (TA 308) The sexuality latent in this stickwaving catharsis, symbolic of perhaps the most primitive action of all, in itself hardly requires comment, but Strether's phallic act is cl~y proof that he has renounced the metaphysical as well as the actual Drama, of course, is action, and Strether, no longer Mrs Newsome's proxy, begins to act on his own It is ironic that Strether does not act in the drama until he has stepped out of it The rest of Chapter 31 is the denouement of the drama, Strether's descent back to the work in which he belongs The frame of a painting generally jumps forward and forces • both figure and ground into the background while fading out of sight when one looks intently at the inside of the work, but a peculiarity of this frame is that though it easily jumps forward into primacy it obviously has a hard time fading awaywhen we focus our attention on the sUbject The reason is, of course, that this frame contains the climax to the book To say that the novel lacks truth and action is simply a deticate way of saying that it lacks a climax and must lack one, hence its relegation to the frame James excluded the climax, the great floating 75 FRAMES IN JAMES revelation, from the rest of the workthis parergonal exclusion has led Mary Ann Caws 50 to read the recognition wrongly as an ~ anticlimax (Caws 157) James's intensification of the frame makes it vie for prominence with the work itself, this paralleling strether's own progress toward primacy Another question raised by James's text is also answered by this exclusion: Whatdo we make of James's propriety in relying so heavily on chance at such a crucial point? David Lodge has pointed out that the plethora of water imagery throughout the novel is "ironically prophetic" (Lodge 205): How appropriate it is that Strether, at the climax of an experience which he has consistently likened to swimming in or navigating a watery medium, at the very point where he has to reassess this experience and acknowledge the partial correctness of the Woollett interpretation of events, should be returned to the Woollett stance on the shore and recognize the deviousness of Chad's and Madame de Vionnet's conduct, as they come drifting ,down the river in a boat (Lodge 208) The coincidence of Strether's journeying to the same village that his friends are using for their retreat, however, is only partially explained away by its ironic appropriateness Unnatural coincidence, like truth and action, has no place in a realistic portrait even of an imaginative man in Paris, but like them also this unnatural coincidence is no obstacle in a preface, where the author simply explains what he meant and how it happened under no obligation to conform to nature 76 FRAMES IN JAMES After his initial action, which so alters the course of future events, he coolly and elegantly reverts to his old idle ways, playing along with tbe lie and "superseding mere violence" (TA 308): It had been a performance, Madame de Vionnet's manner, and though it had to that degree faltered toward the end, as through her ceasing to believe in it, as if she had asked herself, or Chad had found amoment surreptitiously to ask her, what after all was the use, a performance it had none the less quite handsomely remained, with the final fact about it that'it was on the whole easier to keep up than to abandon (TA 311) strether has left the oblong gilt frame behind now and has re entered the drama of Paris as an active participant, an entity to be reckoned with The difference is that Strether now knows that he is acting in a drama, a fiction in which everyone has, like Chad and Madame de Vionnet, "something to put a face upon" (TA 310) No longer an acolyte of one branch of a dialectic or the other, "He was, at that point of vantage, in full possession, to make of it all what he could" (TA 311) Strether learns from his adventure in the countrysjde that he has always been more than a proxy to Mrs Newsome, that he is involved in the drama and has always been, and that he has been fooled Though there can be no absolute knowledge or revelation l \ within realism, there can and must be understanding through impression and'imagination: [Strether] realized at last that he had really been tryinq all along to suppose nothing~ Verily, verily, his labour had been lost He found,himself supposing innumerable and 77 FRAMES IN JAMES wonderful things (TA 313) On the basis of his discovery pf the lie and his realization of its truth Strether repudiates Maria Gostrey in much the sam~ way that Maisie renounces Mrs Beale and Sir Claude and begins, in the last pages of the novel, to find himself Renunciation, in , James, ~is often a step toward maturity, and it is a skill that both Maisie and Strether ultimately acquire Strether's real discovery, though, is not so much the nature of the virtuous attachment itself as the fact that "his [own] moral superiority has vanished" (Wegelin 449) and that he is himself "mixed up in a typical tale of Paris"«r(TA 315) In the Pastes et Telegraphs Strether notes that there, is something in the air of these establishments; the vibration of the vast strange life of the town, the influence of the types, the performers concocting their messages; the little prompt Paris women, arranging, pretexting goodness knew what, driving the dreadful needlepointed pen at the dreadful sandstrewn pUblic table • He was mixed up with the typical tale of paris, and so were they, poor thingshow could they altogether help being? (TA 314~15) Strether has slowly come to realize a profound truth: that he has been involved all along in the drama and that behind the veil of the esthetic of Paris are real people, all of whom are actively participating in the drama of life, as Chad and Madame de Vionnet had been behind his back He also sees, of course, that "somebodywas paying something somewhere and somehow, that they were at least not all floating together on the silver stream of impunity" (TA 315), and Strether understandably reverts for a 78 FRAMES IN JAMES time to the "old tradition" (TA 316) of the Woollett morality, "the notion that the state of the wrongdoer, or at least this person's happiness, presented some special difficulty" (TA 316) strether goes to see Maria Gostrey for one last time, however, and "As she presented things the uglinessgoodness knew why went out of them"·and strether's indignant anger begins to subside strether sees how much his naIvete has aided his friends' intimacy, and he comes slowly, and indeed miraculously, to see this intimacy as a positive thing "'What it comes to,'" he explains to Miss Gostrey, "'is that it's not, that it's never, a happiness, any happiness at all, to take The only safe thing is to give It's what plays you least false'" (TA 321) This maxim in strether's enlightened grasp is no mere cliche: its profundity is evidenced by "the quaver of [Maria's] quietness" (TA 321) as she takes it in In his excursion to the preface Strether renounces both Woollett and Paris, but in the end he take upon himself the task of combining the Woollett ethic and the Paris esthetic, thus reconciling thesis and antithesis with synthesis The end result of The Ambassadors, the "product" produced at Woollett and refined inParis, is a man who sees both the crudity and the validity of the culture he was born into But he also sees both the beauty and the hypocrisy of the Parisian culture In short, !' he has educated himself: midway through the novel he could 79 FRAMES IN JAMES barely "'toddle alone'" (TA 190), but at the end he has learned from his adventures that the view of Paris as the "consecrated scene of rash infatuations and bold bad treacheries" belongs to the infancy of life as well as of art ,,51 Strether has retained the broad view of life afforded by his trip to Europe and his adventure in the preface and has grown out of that infancy His successful mediation between'Woollett and Paris is what earns him the title of ambassador Conclusion: I have argued that the Prologue to The Turn of the Screw is a complete and effective frame tale according to Derrida's notion of the parergon, one that works to redress the lack of a beginning to the governess's narrative, a lack that can be redressed only because it must also be sustained in order for the narrative to succeed as a fairy tale My main point in Chapter II, however, is that in the realm of fiction the frame/work relationship can be found in relationships between people as well as between elements of a work of art and that the primacy' of the frame is as peculiar a characteristic within the work as it is outside it In What· Maisie Knew, Maisie Farange is herself a parergonal frame, used to compensate for the lack of decency in 80 FRAMES IN JAMES her parents' adulterous relationships I read these relationships as paintings that cannot sustain themselves against the strict victorian moral code, thus requiring a frame of support In The Ambassadors, the Lambinet chapters (3031) form a parergonal preface that contains the great revelation of the truth; this truth is both necessary in a portrait of a"man of imagination" and incommensurable with the genre of realism The novel, in short, is in a sense the ultimate utilization of the parergon: it has its climax in a preface, and my Chapter III is an exploration of this peculiar design This essay is a tribute to the importance of the marginal in literature and philosophy To Derrida a painting is not a unit but a composite of work and frame in which the frame, ostensibly subordinate to the work, is actually 9f primary importance because of the extent to which it is sUbordinatethe extent, in other words, to which it is necessitated by the work In short, the frame does real work: The frame labors' indeed Place of labor, structurally bordered origin of surplus value, ie, overflowe~on these two borders by what it overflows, it gives indeed Like wood It creaks and cracks, breaks down and dislocates even as it cooperates in the production of the product, overflows it and is deduc(t)ed fro~ it (!P 75) Regardless of why paintings originally were framed, the frame has come to be associated intimately with our notion of what a painting is, and Derrida's premise that certain works of art need somehow to be framed involves an irony basic to my analysis: it \ 81 FRAMES IN JAMES assumes that the work is intrinsically incapable of doing its own work The goal of much recent minimalist art, what Michael Fried has called immanent "objecthood" (Fried 145), is thus a futile aspiration The incapability of attaining true primacy and the need to somehow overcome this handicap by juxtaposition are a characteristic of both the work of art and the human spirit to which James was clearly sensitive, both in structuring his novels and in portraying the human relationships within them James's interest in the clumsy futility of honest action and the beauty of vagueness led to the characters of Gilbert Osmond, Little Bilham, and Sir Claude, who are so attractive precisely because they never seem to do anything Lambert Strether, Jobn Marcher, and the governess in The Turn of the Screw are all characters who see and wait but rarely act and whose fates are determined by their interpretation of events more than by action James is thus linked with Derrida by his interest in the sIgnificance and beauty of the passive and subordinatethe novel itself was a subordinate genre that James was instr~mental in raising to the level of a fine art 82 FRAMES IN JAMES Notes 1 The Art of the Novel, 101 2 HenryJames: Literary criticism, 4465 3 For an analysis of the debate between Besant and James, see Mark Spilka's "'The Art of Fiction' Controversy" 4 Jones, 11,2 5 Cf Felman, 120 6 James clearly felt that it was important that both these effects of the frame be happen together, and that they did not happen together for Nathaniel "Hawthorne In an 1872 review of an edition of Hawthorne's journals from his travels to France and Italy James discusses the "admirably honest" (HJ 310) and "natural" (HJ 309) genius, whose response tothe European paintings he finds charmingly naIve: The "most delicate charm" to Mr Hawthorne was apparently simply the primal freshness and brightness of paint and varnish, andnot to put too fine a point on itthe new 'gilding of the frame (HJ 311) In another essay on Hawthorne (1879), James writes: Whenever he talks of statues he makes a great point of the smoothness and whiteness of the marblespeaks of the surface of the marble as if it were half the beauty 9f the image; and when he discourses of pictures, one feels that the brightness and dinginess of the frame is an essential part of his impression of the work (HJ 441) James found Hawthorne's uneducated American naIvete amusing because of its attention to surface detail, particularly that of the frame, to the exclusion of the work itself His patient chiding shows how important it was for him, however, that the frame be a part of the whole painting, a part that works wi th the work instead of distracting attention from it The frame mus~centuate the work by eliminating itself, by disappearing from the viewer's field of vision 7 Bennington and McLeod translated Derrida' s The Truth in painting into English in 1987, but the work was originally pUblished as La verite en Peinture (Paris: Flammarion) in 1978, and J a shorter version of "Parergon," without illustrations, appeared in 1974 (Digraphe 3 and 4) It is not unlikely, therefo~e, that Felman's work was influenced by Derrida's notion of the parergon 83 \ FRAMES IN JAMES 8 In addition to those already mentioned, see Millicent Bell, ~Meaning in Henry James ; Dennis Chase, "The Ambiguity of Innocence: The Turn of the Screw"; Marcia M Eaton, "James's Turn of the SpeechAct"; Vincent Pecora, Self as Form in Modern Narrative;' Shlomith Rimmon,The Concept of AmbiguityThe Example of James 9 I use the word "redress" here because the action to which I refer is not that of eliminating the lack but of compensating for it "Redress" is amore forceful and dominating verb than "compensate," as evidenced by the fact that the latter would have to be accompanied by the preposition "for" I 10 "The Way it Came," later renamed "The Friends of the Friends," is another ghost story written at just before The Turn of the Screw, and it is framed in much the same way as the latter The tale's prologue (p 371 of The Complete Tales, v IX) takes the form of a letter from an editor to a possible pUblisher addressIng the question of "the possibility of pUblication" of a manuscroipt, a copy of which follows The story, divided by the narrator "for your convenience into several short chapters" but otherwise unaltered, is jUdged by the editor to be flawed Rather than repairing it, however, the narrator prefaces the story with a cover letter of explanation This principle of adding rather than altering is the same one at work in The Turn of the Screw 11 Peter Beidler, in Ghosts, Demons and Henry' James, has suggested that Douglas, in his college days, wasamember of the Cambridge Ghost Club, and that "it ~ay have been at Douglas's urging that the governess made a written statement of her experiences" (Beidler 40) This suggestion, as Beidler notes, would account for anumber of inconsistencies in the novel, the confessional tone of the narrative among them 12 It is necessary to point out that the propaedeutic prechapter to What Maisie Knew, James's "ugly little comedy" (Notebooks 167) is not a parergonal frame 'lik~ the Prologue to The Turn of the Screw The Prologue to What Maisie Knew, it is true, differs in tone and style from the narrative that follows it Mary Galbraith, furthermore, has analyzed the transition from the Prologue to Chapter 1 of the novel and shown that the Prologue differs epistemologically as well In the Prologue Maisie does nQt yet exist as a character, but only as a marker in the adults' game: IThe last p~agraph of the prologue is almost entirely devoted to the perspective of [Beale and,Ida's] social circle, for whom the Faranges's divorce is a wonderful distraction The topics of paragraph 7 [of the Prologue] enact the topics of importance to this 'circle: physical appearance and money within this universe, the child Maisie is virtually nonexistent as is evidenced by the lack of mention of her \ within this paragraph She exists only as a marker in the 84 FRAMES IN JAMES game of wealth, beauty, and power (Galbraith 199) Maisie, as Galbraith illustrates, is brought to life only by the first sentence of Chapter 1 Even thi? difference between Prologue and tale, however, does not make the Prologue a frame The ; Prologue is simply a part of the novel that comes before the first chapter It is an introduction, an informative beginning, exactly the likes of which The Turn of the Screw is lacking Tl1e fact that the Prologue to What Maisie Knew precedes the first chapter of the novel emphasizes the beginning of the novel rather than obfuscating it as is the case in The Turn of the Screw 13 See the Notebook entry for Saturday, January 12, 1895 14 Cf Shoshana Felman's account of the mechanics of letter­ writing in TheTurn of the Screw in ch 5 of her "Turning the Screw of Interpretation" 15 Michael Taylor has interestingly suggested that the reason for this respect is that the narrator is female but in any case, the mysterious relation emphasizes the dramatic element of the Prologue and heightens the contrast with the governess's narrative 16 James heard the ~tory that became The Turn of the Screw on Thursday, January 10, 1895, according to the notebook entry of the following s~turday, but he did not pUblish the story u~til January of 1898 (Not~books 109) James got the idea for What Maisie Knew on November 12, 1892, according to his note dated two days later, and was published in 1897 17 Sir Claude, originally lithe captain, II simple, good, mild chap" in the notebooks December 22, 1895 (Notebooks 150) is described as IIa­ See the entry for 18 "'Poor little monkey!' [the good lady] at last exclaimed; and the words were an epitaph for the tomb of Maisie's childhood '' (What Maisie Knew 36) 19 See, for example, this description: [Maisie's] features had somehow become prominent; they were so perpetually nipped by the gentlemen who came to see her father and the smoke of whose cigarettes went into her face Some of these menmade her strike matches and light their cigarettes; others, holding her on knees violently jolted, pinched the calves of her legs till she shriekedher shriek was much admiredand reproached them with being toothpicks The word stuck in her mind and contributed to her feeling from this time that she was deficient in something that would meet the general desire She found out what it was; it was a congenital tendency to the production of·a substance to which Moddle, her nurse, gave a short ugly name, aname painfully 85 ,_\ , ! "' FRAMES IN JAMES associated at dinner with the part of the joint that she didn't like (WMK 3940) 20 Ida Farange' s interest in her daughter is reduced to "the mere maternal pUll i, (WMK) 21 Though the Penguin edition of What Maisie Knew uses a free­ standing hyphen to separate these phrases, I will use in my transcriptions the double dash employed by the editors of the Norton critical editions of James's novels Evidence that the double dash is more in line with James's own intentions is to be found in Book Five of The Ambassadors, just after Strether's famous "Live all you can" speech: Slowly and sociably, with full pauses and straight dashes, Strether had so delivered himself (TA 132; emphasis added) 22 Foster notes that "her analysis of the lovers goes beyond understanding them, beyond knowing about love, to a participation in love's stratagems" (Foster 209) ' 23 James repeatedly calls her an "honest frump" in the notebooks See the entry for December 22, 1895 (Notebooks 149) 24 Mrs wix follows Maisie wherever she goes, appearing later, to Maisie, on the cliffs of DoVer the night before Maisie and Sir Claude break for France: Maisie stared at them as if she might really make out after a little a queer dear figure perched on them a figure as to which she had already the subtle sense that, wherever perched, it would be the very oddest yet seen in France But it was at least as exciting to feel where Mrs Wix wasn't as it would have been to know where she was (WMK 165~66) 25 Marriage in What Maisie Knew is simply "the unbroken opportuni ty to quarrel" (WMK 37) 26 James writes in the Preface to the New York Edition that "the child becoming a centre and pretext for a fresh system of misbehaviour, a system moreover of a nature to spread and ramify: there would be the 'full' irony, there the promising theme into which the hint I had originally picked up would logically flower" (WMK 25) 27 James writes in the Preface to What Maisie Knew that "the thing has but to becomea part of the child's bewilderment for these small sterilities to drop from it and for the scene to emerge and prevailvivid, special, wrought hard, to the hardness of the unforgettable; the scene that is exactly what Beate and Ida and Mrs Cuddon, and even SirClaude,and Mrs Beale, would never for a moment have succeeded in making their scant unredeemed importancesnamely P86 FRAMES IN JAMES appreciable" (WMK 2930) Maisie's role as a frame, then, is not only to make her parents' and stepparents' adultery appear decent to their peers in society, but ~lso to validate their presentation to the reader by making them "appreciable" It is Maisie's unifying presence that makes her upbringing what Lambert Strether calls a "situation" (TA 168) or "case" (TA 234); it is she alone that makes' her milieu interesting Being "appreciable" is the aesthetic ideal that I will focus on in the next chapter ~ 28 Armstrong observes that "the excess of seeing over understanding which imprisons Maisie in a world of ambiguity is the surplus of her unreflective experience over what she can appropriate in reflection" (Armstrong 519) Thomas Jeffers, in a similar vein, has described Maisie's childhood as a tomb: "If the denouement signals 'the death of her childhood, properly speaking" (Preface 28), it is the death of something deathly Denied all salutary light and air, Maisie's childhood has been buried in 'the tomb' (WMK 36)" (Jeffers 161) [I have adjusted Jeffers's pagination 'to correspond to that of the Penguin edition] 29 See Blackall 518 for a brief review of the ~ebate 30 Paul Theroux has noted the change in tone in Chapter 17 and postulated that it is here that James surrendered to his writer's cramp and began dictating to an amanuensis See page 11 of Thoroux's introduction to the Penguin edition 31 See the notebook entry for August 26, 1893 (Noteboqks 77) 32 There is no extended dialogue until Chapter 6, and little of much importance until before Chapter 13 33 His stick, of course, is in Mrs Beale's bedroom (WMK 239) 34 Foster writes: "Nothing in Maisie's experience makes it s,elf­ evident that taking a wealthy lover is evil For Mrs Wix, the leap from paying lovers to immorality is automatic, having been schooled~for so long in a convention linking the two that she has come to assume it is a fact of nature So long as Maisie has not learned this convention, her' failure to follow Mrs wix's leap emphasizes the weakness of the logic of morality" (Foster 210) 35, Julie Rivkin, similarly, has claimed that "the supplement itself is a 'prime idea' in TheAmbassadors" (384, note 6), as has Mary AnnCaws, who writes that "By the time of The Ambassadors, the aesthetic sense of border is openly of greater interest for James than the rather dreary 'plot'" (Caws 148) 87 FRAMES IN JAMES 36 Derrida claims that the work collapses without the frame, but his statement is wittily obfusc~ted by one of the blank boxes that periodically interrupt his work The statement, in which Derrida compares awork of art to a person in a wheelchair, thus appears as follows in the text: One pushes forward something which not erect itself by itself supports and contains that which, forthwith, exc 1 cannot stand up, does Framing always by itself, collapses I (Derrida 7879) The fragment "exc" here [s'exc in French] may be the first half of "except," which might mean that there are some cases where the work does not necessarily collapse without the frame But whatever qualification once followed has itself been coyly framed by its own elision; Derrida' s concern is with those works that do require framing 37 Strether also paints a "picture" (TA 50) of Mrs Newsome for Maria Gostrey at every opportunity in the dawn of their acquaintance, and through his descriptions Miss Gostrey "sees" the sUbject of the painting: "how intensely you make me see her!" she exclaims to Strether lTA 50) Strether, as a frame connected to bqt on a different plane of existence than the "work" he is employed to serve, cannot see completely either his sUbject or the nature of his relationship to her, but Maria Gostrey is a seer, an observer and interpreter in the system of illdetachable detachment that is Strether's situation: "You see more in it," he presently returned, "than I" "Of course I see you in it" "Well then you see more in 'me'!" "Than you see in yourself? Very likely That's always one's right" (TA 53) 38 Cf Chapter 14: "he was \being, as he constantly put it though mutely expressed it, used He was as far as ever from making out exactly to what end; but he was none the less constantly accompanied by a sense of the service he rendered He conceived only that this service was highly agFeeable to those who profited by it; and he was indeed still waiting for the moment at which he should catch it in the act of proving disagreeable, proving in some degree intolerable, to himself He failed to see how his situation could clear up at all logically except· bysome turn of events that would give him the pretext of disgust" (TA 152) 39 This term comes from the Preface to What Maisie Knew See note 27 above 88 ,~ FRAMES IN JAMES 40 R W Short has written that the theatrical images in The Ambassadors generally "stand for the unnatural, the meretricious, the overingenious, the glittering front, the false ritual, the social perversion" (Short 951) while Lodge has pointed out that '''the legitimate theater is in fact one of the novel's touchstones for indicating fineness of crudity of sensibility, the acceptance or rej ection of European culture and the idea of social beauty" (Ledge 210) 41 Rivkin also suggests that "her name falls one consonant short of 'go straight' and leaves us with the openended sound and open path of 'go stray'" (824) 42 See also HolderBarell 11724 43 Garis has written that "there has in fact been no education at all" and that the novel's conclusion illustrates "Strether' s incapacity for either education or life" (307) Goetz writes, similarly, that Maria's praise for [Strether's] imagination [at' the end of chapter 29]comes at an ironic moment, just preceding Strether's retreat into the Lambinetlike French countryside where his imagination sets himup for his greatest fall in the novel, a fall which will almost wreck him (Goetz 190) I will argue here, however, that Strether's imaginative adventure almost saves him, and that to save him any further would violate the realism of the novel 44 Robert Garis writes that after "tweI}'tynine chapters dramatizing, with extraordinarily close attention to the rigors of a consistent point of view" the book ends w>i th seven cha,pters in which "the writing is brilliant in invention and secure in justice" (30910) 45 Wi1liam R Goetz argues that in The Ambassadors a tension builds up between Strether and the narrator as a result of James's fear that Strether would too much resemble himself, making the book appear to be an autobiography Goetz's thesis is based on James's famous renunciation of the firstperson form of address in longer works of fiction in the Preface to The Ambassadors: Strether, encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiffer and ,more salutary than any our stiff· and credulous gape are likely to bring home to bim, has exhibitional conditions to meet,' in aword, that forbid the terrible fluidity of selfrevelation (TA Preiace11) Goetz writes that the purpose of the Preface is to "make the avoidance of autobiography seem a purely technical decision" (Goetz 185) but·~hat this avoidance is really an act of defense and that Strether ~is guilty of the crime of impersonatin'g his creator 89 FRAMES IN JAMES Strether's encagement within the text, Goetz writes, functions as punishment for this crime: The familiar tightness versus fluidity operates here in away uncomfortable to Strether He is encaged and sUbject to the "stiffer proprieties" of James's focalized narrative so that he cannot escape the fictional bounds of the text and be confused with his author (Goetz 187) Goetz perceives the obvious resemblance between James and Strether as one that made the former uneasy and writes that "this obvious threat of the author's identification with his hero calls forth ~ countermovement, an act that will protect James by keeping Strether ~ distinct from him, a prisoner, as it were, of the fictional text" (Goetz 187) Goetz sees Strether's imprisonment, in other words, as an act of defense on the part of tyrannical author who refuses him "the double privilege of subject and object" (Preface 11) to protect himself from the indignity of autobiography 46 See p 233 of Edel' s "The Point of View" in the Norton' edition of The Turn of the Screw 47 The Preface to The Ambassadors shows James more confident than at any other point in The Art of the Novel, and the metaphor he chooses to convey his excitement,'that of the pursuit of a runaway slave, shows the extent of his confidence· in his achievement: No privilege of the teller of tales and the handler of puppets is more delightful, or has more of the suspense and the thrill ofa game of difficulty breathlessly played, than just this business of looking for the unseen and the occult, in ascheme halfgrasped, by the light or, soto speak, by the clinging scent, of the gage already in hand No dreadful old pursuit of the hidden slave with bloodhounds and the rag of association can ever, for "excitement," I jUdge, have bettered it at its best (TA 4) 48 Viola Hopkins has suggested that Strether, by this point, has drifted out of Lambinet' s "French ruralism" into something more impressionistic, a Manet·perhaps See Hopkins 565 ::t 49 See p 483 of The Portable James Joyce, ed Harry Levin 50 See also Mary Ann Caws's Reading 'Frames in Modern Fiction Caws, however, is concerned more with what is framed than with the frame itself, which is to be my focus She writes: "The question as to where the frame is said to be, and its relation toHeg~l's notion of the parergon, is of less concern to me here than the effect of the actual passages I read as framed within the texts and the recognition of their borders" (Caws 13) 51 Preface to The American (p 24 of The Art ot the Novel) 90 ~,' FRAMES IN JAMES Bibliography WORKS ~Y HENRY JAMES: Henry James The Art of the Novel, ed R P Blackmur (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934) Henry James: Literary Criticism, ed L Edel (New York: Literary Classics of the Unit~d States, Inc 1984) "The Altar of the Dead," in L Edel, ed, The Complete Tales of Henry James, V' IX: 18921898 (New York: ~ B Lippincott 1964) 23171 The Ambassadors (New York: Norton 1964) The Complete Notebooks of Henry James, ed L Edel and L Powers (New York: Oxford U P 1987) "The Way it Came," in L Edel, ed, The Complete Tales of Henry James, v IX: 18921898 (New York: J B Lippincott 1964) 371401 The Turn of the Screw, ed Robert Kimbrough (New York: Norton, 1966) What Maisie Knew, ed P Theroux and P Crick (London: Penguin Books 1985) OTHER WORKS CITED: r Abbott, Reginald "The Incredible Floating Man: Henry James's Lambert Strether" Henry James Review 11(1990) 17688 Armstrong, Paul B "How Maisie Knows: The Phenomenology of James's Moral Vision" Texas Studies in Literature and Language 20 (1978): 51737 ~ Banta, Martha "The Quality of Experience in WhatMaisie Knew" New England Quarterly42 (1969): 483510 ';;c' Rust, Richard Dilworth "Liminality in The Turn of the Screw" Studies in Short Fiction 25 (1988): 44146 Short, R W "Henry James's World of Images" PMLA 68 (1953): 94360 93 FRAMES IN JAMES spilka, Mark "'The Art of Fiction' Controversy" Towards a Petics of Fiction, ed Mark Spilka Bloomington and London: Indiana U P, 1977 Taylor, Michael J H of the Screw'" "A Note on the First Narrator of 'The Turn American Literature 53 (1982): 71722 Ward, J A, "The Portraits of Henry James," Henry James Review 10 (1989): 114 Wegelin, Christof "The Lesson of Social Beauty" The Turn of the Screw, ed R Kimbrough New York: Norton, 1966 pp 44258 Winner, Viola Hopkins Henry James and the Visual Arts Charlottesville: U P Virginia, 1970 Wise, James N "The Floating World of Lambert Strether" Arlington Quarterly 2(1969) 80110 Wolk, Merla "Narration and Nurture in What Maisie Knew" Henry James Review 4 (1983): 196206 •• '_c"'··_ 94 ,{ Vita Iwas born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on October 10, 1968 I have a BA in English (January 1992) from Lehigh University, and I have also studied at The Barnstone studios in Coplay, Pennsylvania, Sichuan university in Chengdu, China, and the University of Edinburgh tn Great Britain In the summer of 1991 I married Aphrodite Tatla in Athens, Greece, whereupon life began for me in earnest I 95 f )

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