Gender and vision : il ruolo femminile all'interno di tales di Henry James

In some of James’s tales female characters appear to complement and counterbalance the male characters. To better comprehend many of James’s themes one can study the relationship between man and woman within different stories. This is not one of James’s main themes, but it can help with the comprehension of aspects such as: intimity, self-understanding, reification, otherness which are somehow linked to “vision”.
Analizing this relationship between the sexes throughout James’s tales some aspects of this “vision” will become apparent through a gender-based perspective.
In “The Aspern papers” the male character of the editor tries to enter the private world of a woman (Juliana) through another woman (her niece Tita), using her to obtain his objective. The editor establishes with Tita a relationship based on seduction, driving her towards himself.

I laid my hand on her arm, across the table, to stay her a moment.
What I want of you is a general promise to help me (98)

You might do a few things that I like (86)

He creates an intimity which is not the final objective but a means and which is not a guarantee of truth within the relationship.
In fact the relationship is based on his lies since he uses the woman as an instrument or even worse he doesn’t see her at all, blinded by his obsession. He considers her an object but she is in love with him so the relashionship is both opportunistic and asymmetric. The way the editor wants to possess Juliana’s private world (where his objective lies) is his gaze: to see his objective, penetrating the private feminine world is synonim for him of appropriation.

I turned my eyes all over the room, rummaging with them the closets, the chests of drawers, the tables. (109)

The identity between vision and possession turns out to be impossible at the end of the story: the desired object gets destroyed and Tita gets away from being completely abused and possessed. Maybe this impossibility of uniting vision and possession is due to woman’s nature: man’s eye can’t see the feminine’s sex organ entirely, so he can’t possess her completely.

In “The Beast in the Jungle”, as well as in “The Aspern Papers”, the relashionship between man and woman doesn’t come to a complete fulfillment although intimity is stronger in the first one and more sincere. There is still a big limitation in the relationship due to the self-centration of the male character (John Marcher). He still doesn’t see/conceive the female character (May Bartram) in her entirety as a person.

He was careful to remember that she had, after all, also a life of her own, with things that might happen to her, things that in friendship one should likewise take account of. (312)

He was quite ready, none the less, to be selfish just a little.
“Just a little”, in a word, was just as much as Miss Bartram, taking one day with another, would let him. (313)

May is fondamental for John in order to understand an obscure matter that he alone isn’t able to achieve. Their conversation is often about that matter only. She has the function of a listener, she helps him, advises him but John wants something from her, not her.

I understand you. I believe you. (310)

John Marcher asks her to watch toghether, identifying vision and comprehension: to see toghether means understand toghether the mistery that links them.

“Oh then, I’m to be present?” “Why, you are present-since you know.” “I see.” (310)

“It will only depend on yourself-if you’ll watch with me.” (310)

“Then you will watch with me?” “(…) If you watch with me you’ll see.” (311)

She, unlike him, succeeds in seeing.

So she had seen it, while he didn’t (…). (339)

The secret turns out to be her death which represents his incapacity of seeing and understanding, of seeing toghether because he has never seen her in her entirity. By the way, May dies in April, the month between March and May, in fact her death is the unknown matter that links Marcher and May.

In “The Jolly Corner” the male protagonist, Spencer Brydon comes to a consciousness thank only to the female character, Alice Staverton. He is obsessed by the idea of what he might have been and this possibility takes shape in a presence that he meets one night. Although he sees him with his eyes, vision is not sufficient to comprehension. He can’t realise that there is no identity between him and his phantasmagoria. It’s Alice Staverton, a woman, who states the difference between reality and imagination. This happens in a love relationship, it’s her love that states the difference: he is what he is because he is loved by her. Self-consciousness is possible thanks to her.

“There’s somebody-an awful beast (…). But it’s not me.” “No,-it’s not you.” (367)

He had been miracolously carried back. (365)

“You brought me literally to life(…)” (366)

Only in this last tale the relationship becomes complete. The female character has a great role in creating the possibility of a relationship in which the other is seen entirely. This is the way by which one can have a comprehension of the reality and of the self.


This entry was posted on 2.13.2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.