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(-: The Henry James E-Journal :-)Number 2
March 1, 2000
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'It is quite difficult to invent a tale; even a new creation will inevitably merge with the stream of tales heard before, and thus become a variant of what has already been around' (Burkert, 70). To see a tale or novel as thus embedded in a stream of tradition enhances our perception of the logic of its composition, and in addition allows us to focus its originality in a more precise way. It is a piquant surprise to see the lineaments of an old story emerge beneath the surface of the new -- to recognize, for instance, in Mauriac's _Therese Desqueyroux_ a retelling of _Madame Bovary_, or in his _Destins_ a version of _Phedre_, (or in Mishima's _Thirst for Love_ a rewriting of _Destins_). This palimpsest effect instantiates the self-referential character that seems intrinsic to all literature, and that is brought to saturation in densely allusive works such as Milton's 'Lycidas', which resumes and criticizes the entire tradition of pastoral verse. Milton's art of allusion has roots in Greek and Latin poetics, but similar practices are very much in evidence in Chinese and Japanese literature as well. The modernist period was another golden age of allusion. T. S. Eliot and James Joyce cannibalize literary tradition, and musical tradition undergoes a similar fate at the hands of historically minded composers such as Stravinsky and Britten.
PUSHKIN IN 'THE ASPERN PAPERS'Joseph S. O'Leary, Sophia University, Tokyo
Thanks especially to the researches of Adeline Tintner (Tintner 1986; 1987), we now know that Henry James was another modernist cannibal, whose voracity extended to the plastic arts as well as to literary forebears. His works, like those of Joyce or Eliot, are a lamp held up to the entire range of European literature. He installed himself from the start, with Goethean aplomb, at the heart of literary tradition, so that the least of his works reverberates with a sense of wider connections. To be sure, his reading is principally in nineteenth century English and French literature, with excursions into the German, Italian, Russian and Scandinavian domains, and he is without the classical ballast and philosophical curiosity of Goethe. Just this lack is what ensures the sleek modernity of his writing, its unhampered entry into the recesses of the complex, often decadent, consciousness of late nineteenth century people. In his cult of form, too, he does not seek to restore grandiose classical genres, but aims at a modern streamlining. When he rewrites older texts he brings their formal qualities to a higher integration, transforming the 'loose baggy monsters' (James 1984:1107) of the past into sleek new models, or, conversely, filling out sumptuously the sketchier conception of a predecessor. Indeed sometimes it is his own previous work that is given this treatment: _The Wings of the Dove_, for example, rewrites _The Portrait of a Lady_; what was prosy, touristic, or melodramatic in the earlier novel is transmuted into the refined gold of a drama of consciousness.
Many of James's tales are a parody and critical commentary on some literary model. To discover this intertextual effect lends an increased formal radiance to the tales, 'for then they begin to illustrate other talents and other characters as well: the plot thickens, the whole spectacle expands' (James 1984:482). These words from the 1888 review, 'Pierre Loti', refer to the need to locate Loti in relation to his French contemporaries. Tintner (Tintner 1987:xxii) applies them to the palimpsest effect achieved when one story is a rewriting of another. If James was thinking of this effect, he may well have had in mind the connection between 'The Aspern Papers' (henceforth AP), published the same year, and Pushkin's 'The Queen of Spades' (1833; henceforth QS). I noticed the relation between the two stories as I listened to Tchaikovsky's opera _The Queen of Spades_ when teaching classes on AP. I sent a note about this to _The Times Literary Supplement_ (July 9, 1999), and in the act of writing it had the further illumination that Jeffrey Aspern was on one level none other than Alexander S. Pushkin. This elicited a letter from Professor Neil Cornwell of Bristol University, who alerted me to his thorough discussion of the two stories (Cornwell 1990), and pointed out (as I had in the meantime become aware) that the connection had already been seen by his colleague Professor Anthony D. Briggs in 1972. He also referred me to more desultory comparisons of the stories in Fuentes 1988; Zholkovsky 1994; Voisine-Jechova 1995 (and more recently to Durkin 1998). New to him was the proposed connection of Aspern with Pushkin. In reply, I reported a new discovery: the presence of Pushkin's initials ASP in the name of Aspern. He wrote back that Professor Briggs had noticed the same thing for the first time a few weeks previously, a pleasing case of serendipitous synchronicity.
My TLS note also drew a response from the doyenne of James studies, Adeline Tintner. She was hesitant to admit the influence of QS in the absence of any proof that James had read it. (She has since been convinced by Cornwell's arguments.) Pointing out that James does praise another Pushkin story, 'The Pistol Shot' (James 1984:565), she suggested that this story of a man who refrains from taking violent revenge could have influenced the pacifist tale 'Owen Wingrave'. However, apart from the internal evidence of the echoes in AP, there are good reasons for assuming that James knew QS. It appeared in a translation by Prosper Merimee, an author who fascinated the youthful James, in his favourite review, the _Revue des deux mondes_, in 1849, when James was six years old. James somewhere refers to the back numbers of this review, and could well have read the story there years after its publication; it was frequently reprinted in any case. Merimee was a friend of Pushkin's and of Turgenev's. James, too, was a friend of Turgenev's. He also relates that Flaubert dropped the name of Pushkin in conversation with him (James 1984:320), and he would probably have heard about Flaubert's remark to Turgenev about Pushkin: 'He's rather flat, your poet'. Given these circumstances it is highly unlikely that James was unaware of Pushkin's most famous prose composition. Whether Merimee's translation was the sole or even the principal source for James's knowledge of QS is unclear. Cornwell suggests that expressions found in Merimee's translation but not in the Russian original may be echoed in AP (Cornwell 1990:132), but the examples he gives are rather tenuous.
One reason why critics have not sought a literary model for AP is that James himself makes so much of the real-life situation that inspired the tale:
I saw it somehow at the very first blush as romantic -- for the use, of course I mean, I should certainly have had to make of it -- that Jane Clairmont, the half-sister of Mary Godwin, Shelley's second wife and for a while the intimate friend of Byron and the mother of his daughter Allegra, should have been living on in Florence, where she had long lived, up to our own day, and that in fact, had I happened to hear of her but a little sooner, I might have seen her in the flesh. (NY vii)
But James is perfectly capable of exploiting a real-life anecdote and literary models at the same time. Conversely, the density of intertextual relations in his works may blind us to the degree to which they also subtly comment on the society in which he lived. If he devoured fiction, we may surmise that his appetite for the _chroniques scandaleuses_ of his day was even keener. That an event as sensational as the downfall of Oscar Wilde should leave no trace in James's fiction is antecedently unlikely. Though James intensely disliked his successful rival for the public's ear, calling him 'an unclean beast' and 'an unspeakable animal', nonetheless Wilde's fate affected him as 'hideously, atrociously dramatic and really interesting' (Stevens 1998:126, 130). _What Maisie Knew_ (1897), with its cast of androgynous characters and its accelerating sexual promiscuity, can be read as a response to the Wilde trials. The novel begins with a scandalous court case (the divorce proceedings of Maisie's parents) and reflects James's appalled and fascinated discovery of a gay demimonde. 'The Turn of the Screw' (1898) brings the sexual anxieties touched by the Wilde affair to a kind of paroxysm (see Matheson 1999). Wilde's presence carries over to _The Awkward Age_ (1899), a novel of dialogues in a sequence of theatrical scenes with a cast of characters modeled on those of _Lady Windermere's Fan_ (Hughes 1996). That the fantasticated picture of London society in _What Maisie Knew_ is not due to the child's perspective but to the fact that the characters are _en travesti_ can be verified by the contrast with the muted sobriety of the later novel.
These instances suggest that the apparent rarefaction of the later James's concerns masks an intense grappling with very precise sexual, social and ethical fears. But to see this we have to decode his 'epistemology of the closet'. In detecting the closeted presence of Pushkin in AP, of which James himself never breathed a word, we may gain valuable practice in cracking the codes of this most secretive and mischievous of authors. To be sure, in doing so, we lay ourselves open to the fate incurred by many of the obsessive interpreters in James's stories, that of becoming fascinated with a secret where none exists. The delirium of over-interpretation is wonderfully dramatized in 'The Figure in the Carpet', 'The Turn of the Screw' and _The Sacred Fount_. There is nonetheless good reason for thinking that the pinnacle of James's art of concealment is his pretence of telling all, in contrast to the cryptic allusions which immediately set readers of Joyce puzzling about hidden meanings.
QS is probably the most over-interpreted text in Russian literature (see Cornwell 1993). James may have been drawn by its hermeneutically provocative character. The tale has attained a scriptural status, and its exegetes find deep meaning in every word. Gematria, Masonic and numerological symbolism, secret messages to Decembrist conspirators, are thought to lurk in every corner. The loose ends of the plot are treated as sacred enigmas, and Pushkin is supposed to anticipate modernism and postmodernism in his cultivation of indeterminacy and undecidability, teasing the reader at every turn. The shifts back and forth in time and the changing points of view are taken as a display of sophisticated narrative technique. The style is said to have a limpidity and vital rhythm such as we find in Voltaire or Stendhal. In a story of such consummate craftmanship, it is thought, the oddities and enigmas must be fully deliberate. James may have found them irritating, for in AP he rewrites Pushkin's story in such a way as to smoothen its rough places and dispel its puzzles. AP is in fact one of James's less enigmatic works. Its narrator is as elaborately lucid a personage as Pushkin's Hermann is inarticulate and obscure, and the motivations of all characters are laid open to view in a richly satisfying way.
Contrast with this the ambiguous endings of 'Daisy Miller', 'The Pupil' and 'The Turn of the Screw', in each case involving the sudden melodramatic death of a young innocent. The reader is placed in the position of a detective, forced to answer the question, 'Who is to blame?' The finger of suspicion turns from the obvious villains to the sympathetic protagonists: from the puritanical society to the faltering Winterbourne in 'Daisy Miller', from the ghosts to the governess in 'The Turn of the Screw', from Morgan's family to his tutor in 'The Pupil'. Rejecting John Bayley's claim that the end of 'The Pupil' is 'suggestively unclear', P. N. Furbank regresses to a naive reading of the story (TLS, January 14, 2000). Naive solutions are already inscribed in the text, only to be problematized. When Morgan's mother accuses the tutor: 'You walked him too far, you hurried him too fast!', his riposte: 'He could n't stand it, with his weak organ... -- the shock, the whole scene, the violent emotion' (NY XI 577) cannot be taken as the definitive explanation of the boy's death; it carries a clear overtone of denial or self-justification. It seems that James aims to explore all the possibilities of a tangled situation (or to have the reader imagine them) rather than to resolve it. The story ends with a bang, but worry about its meaning is destined to continue endlessly. A full reading has to note that Morgan is trapped in two double binds: his parents adore him but want to get rid of him; the tutor encourages his dream of an adventurous escape together (in an atmosphere of pedophile complicity, though Furbank is partly right to reject Bayley's crude interpretation of this), yet does not want to be burdened with him when it comes to the crunch. It is at the intersection of these two self-divided adult projects that the boy succumbs. In these three tales we see James taking the humblest of literary genres, the girl's romance, the boy's adventure story and the child's ghost story respectively, and turning them into sophisticated problem tales. QS, on the other hand, in addition to the ambiguities typical of supernatural fiction, is a problem tale par excellence, yet James's rewriting goes in the opposite direction, clearing up the puzzles.
The chief argument for the presence of Pushkin's story in AP is the correspondence of the first climaxes in their respective plots: in each case the protagonist intrudes at midnight in the old lady's chamber, causing her to die as a result of the shock. The real-life situation of the aged Claire Clairmont and her niece, and their importunate lodger, the Shelley fanatic Captain Silsbee, shows nothing that corresponds to this plot element. Silsbee was absent when Claire Clairmont died peacefully on March 19, 1879. The recent biographers of Claire Clairmont, while admitting that 'plot, setting, and characters seem deliberately removed from their source', nonetheless claim that 'Henry James had penetrated the inner life of these two women he had never met and why luckless Silsbee "couldn't pay the price" for the Shelley papers' (Gittings and Manton, 236-7). But in the New York Edition preface James insists that he had retained only the barest elements of this real-life story: He is happy not to have met Claire Clairmont while she lived:
The thrill of learning that she had 'overlapped', and by so much, and the wonder of my having doubtless at several earlier seasons passed again and again, all unknowing, the door of her house, where she sat above, within call and in her habit as she lived, these things gave me all I wanted; I seem to remember in fact that [_sic_] my more or less immediately recognising that I positively ought n't -- 'for anything to come of it' -- to have wanted more. I saw, quickly, that something might come of it _thus_; whereas a fine instinct told me that the effect of a nearer view of the case (the case of the overlapping) would probably have to be quite differently calculable. (NY viii)
As to Silsbee, 'I had known him a little, but there is not a reflected glint of him in "The Aspern Papers" ' (ib.).
The source for Tita's proposal to the narrator is discussed as follows:
Legend here dropped to another key; it remained in a manner interesting, but became to my ear a trifle coarse, or at least rather vague and obscure. It mentioned a younger female relative of the ancient woman as a person who, for a queer climax, had had to be dealt with; it flickered for a moment and then, as a light, to my great relief, quite went out. It had flickered indeed but at the best -- yet had flickered enough to give me my 'facts', bare facts of intimation; which, scant handful though they were, were more distinct and numerous than I mostly _like_ facts. (NY viii-ix)
What the historical facts supplied James with, then, was a flickering legend full of suggestion. As with 'The Turn of the Screw', part of the fascination of the original kernel is that it comes as a tale passed on, an anecdote that has caught the imagination of a chain of narrators until it reaches the novelist's ear, seeming to plead for its expansion to full length. It is such rumours and legends, not facts, that set James's imagination moving, and for their development he would draw not on further factual researches, irrelevant to his task, but on the models presented by forebears in the art of fiction.
Nine tenths of the artist's interest in them is that of what he shall add to them and how he shall turn them. Mine, however, in the connexion I speak of, had fortunately got away from me, and quite of their own movement, in time not to crush me. So it was, at all events, that my imagination preserved power to react under the mere essential charm -- that, I mean, of a final scene of the rich dim Shelley drama played out in the very theatre of our own 'modernity'... If I 'took over', as I say, everything that was of the essence, I stayed my hand for the rest. (NY ix)
The transference of the tale from Florence (where Claire Clairmont lived) to Venice favours the evocation of 'a palpable imaginable _visitable_ past' (NY x). Stony, business-like Florence cannot rival watery, decaying Venice as a conductor of such tremors. But Venice is also close to the Petersburg that haunted Pushkin's imagination. Known as the Palmyra of the North and as the Venice of the North, Petersburg is an artificial city, with canals, and one that has acquired mythic status in literature, evoking images both of the fantastic and of a sinister underworld life, as readers of Gogol ('The Overcoat') and Dostoyevsky ('White Nights' and _Crime and Punishment_) would know. In QS the eighteenth-century past is evoked in references to Casanova, the Empress Catherine and Parisian society; Tchaikovsky actually transfers the story back to this period, which allows him in Act II to indulge in a feast of eighteenth-century musical quotation and pastiche. AP also looks back behind the Byronic era to 'the queer rococo Venice of Casanova' (265-6), adding the name of Goldoni in the second version (NY 60). Thus James doubles his own 'visitable past' with that of Pushkin's story.
The relation of the two texts is systematic; James keeps Pushkin steadily in his sights. Thus rather than speak of 'intertextuality', which suggests tangential allusion, we should see the connection of the texts as a 'hypertextual' one, in the sense that Virgil's _Aeneid_ and Joyce's _Ulysses_ are 'hypertexts' in relation to a common 'hypotext', the _Odyssey_ (see Genette 1982:12-13). Hypertextuality, when not explicitly signalled by the author, is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. For example, a reader could take Rousseau's _Confessions_ as a remake of Augustine's, 'after which detailed confirmations will not be lacking, a simple matter of critical ingenuity' (Genette 1982:16). The search for minor correspondences between the two stories is a dangerous one, as almost any two texts will present parallels if one is determined to find them. Thus one might parallel the narrator's loss of appetite after Tita's proposal (318) with that of the losers at the opening of Pushkin's tale (QS 153); the two staircases in Pushkin might be seen as echoed in the two staircases of the Misses Bordereau's palazzo; the pictures in the Countess's room might be linked to the 'brown pictures, which I perceived to be bad, in battered frames' in Juliana's (236-7), and the Countess's symmetrically disposed armchairs to Juliana's 'straw-bottomed chairs with their backs to the wall' (237); again, the roguery of the Countess's servants might be paralleled with the cynical observations of the servants in James. The revelation that Juliana and Tita are Catholics (306) introduces a religious note at the same point in the story as in Pushkin. Juliana's 'Ah, you publishing scoundrel!' (303) echoes in inversion Hermann's 'Old witch' in the corresponding climactic scene in QS. The portrait of Aspern looks twice in friendly mockery at N. after Juliana's death. After the Countess's death she winks at Hermann from her coffin and from the Queen of Spades he plays in the final scene.
More convincing pointers to Pushkin's influence are little bumps in the text that come into focus only when we adopt an intertextual perspective. When Hermann sees Lizaveta, we read: 'That moment decided his fate' (QS 164). The phrase can be read in two ways: either as indicating Hermann's passionate decision to pursue the Countess's secret through wooing Lizaveta, or as pointing to Hermann's ultimate tragic fate, decided at that moment. When James's narrator says 'I expected her now to settle my fate' (309) it is an excessive and uncharacteristic utterance, which surprises Tita, and it has a similar double sense. The bronze equestrian statue of Peter I which figures in Pushkin's 'The Bronze Horseman' is echoed, as Briggs points out, in the otherwise rather unmotivated appearance of the equestrian statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni (NY 138). Mrs Prest's reference to Amsterdam (232) seems out of place, until we connect it with Pushkin's Petersburg, the other 'Venice of the North'. Such very slight 'bumps' in James's texts, remotely comparable to those so common in Joyce's, indicate some missing element, as in a gnomon. They fit into the texture of the tale, but not with total necessity. Like the anamorphosis in Holbein's 'The Ambassadors', their sense comes into focus only if we adopt a lateral angle of vision.
From James's point of view, QS may have seemed an example of opportunities squandered. Instead of spinning out the situation, creating complication and suspense, and examining in depth the motivations of the three protagonists, Pushkin rushes from one stark scene to another. Whether Pushkin's non-linear time scheme and sudden shifts in point of view would have struck James as commendably experimental or as inartistic cannot be determined. James's story, in any case, adheres rigorously to a single point of view and to a meticulously charted forward temporal progression. In comparing any aspect of AP with the corresponding aspect in QS, one discovers that at every point James could be seen as carrying through a radical critique and correction of Pushkin's narrative methods. For instance, in Pushkin the ghosted Countess's promise of forgiveness if Hermann will marry Lizaveta is not developed at all. In contrast James develops this plot-element subtly and convincingly in the last chapter of AP. Juliana's hostility to the narrator sits ill with her plan to have him marry Tita, just as the Countess's proposal that Hermann marry Liza is quite unexpected. But James skilfully knits this potentially rebellious thread into his total design. (If the Countess's ghost is a hallucination, her reference to Liza could be a symptom of Hermann's unconscious love, throttled by his obsession; the struggle between love and obsession becomes the central theme in Tchaikovsky's opera.)
James offers far more information on the psychological motivation of the characters; as Genette notes, the tendency of 'hypertextuality' is usually towards interiorization and psychologization -- as the figure of Orestes is progressively psychologized from Homer to Aeschylus to Sophocles to Euripides. In _Mourning Becomes Electra_, Eugene O'Neill de-motivates the characters' feelings and actions, in order to allow a deeper level of unconscious motivation to emerge (Genette 1982:376-8). The power of Pushkin's story comes from the unmotivated character of Hermann's actions and passions, which suggest that subterranean forces are at work, those of the unconscious or of some form of preternatural possession. This potent cryptic quality is lost when Dostoyevsky fills out the psychology of the obsessed gambler in _The Gambler_, and when Tchaikovsky builds on slight hints in Pushkin's text to provide a full-blown psychology for Hermann. James's narrator is fantastically lucid about his own motivations, though self-deceiving in his moral assessment of them; but the more the story plunges us into the abyss of reflective consciousness the more it is estranged from the power of the unconscious. 'The Turn of the Screw' is a more uncanny and unsettling tale precisely because the governess is blind to her own unconscious motives, which only gradually dawn on the reader.
The presence of QS in James's oeuvre extends beyond AP. Cornwell (1993:77) argues that the themes of obsession with a secret (which may not exist) and of marriage in order to gain access to it (with overtones of sexual inadequacy) continue to reverberate in 'The Figure in the Carpet' (1896). I note that in 'The Middle Years' (1893) the four principal characters correspond to those in AP. The 'opulent matron' in this story has Pushkinian attributes. She is a Countess with 'bold black eyes'. She carries Dencombe's imagination back to 'the age of crinoline' (NY XVI 78). Dencombe imagines Hugh to be her son at first (just as someone at the Countess's funeral in QS says that Hermann is the Countess's illegitimate son). Hugh's feeling for Dencombe is close to N.'s for Aspern, again with homoerotic overtones -- 'putting into his young voice the ring of a marriage-bell' (XVI 105) -- and verging on obsession -- 'I chose to accept, whatever they might be, the consequences of my infatuation' (XVI 104). It causes him to jilt Miss Vernham, the 'humble dependent' (XVI 79), and allow the Countess to die insufficiently attended; the Countess roundly curses him, and he goes to her grave. Miss Vernham's calculations recall Miss Tita's: 'If she had befriended him [Hugh] at a fruitful crisis he would really, as a man of delicacy -- and she knew what to think of that point -- have to reckon with her' (XVI 101).
Aspern and Pushkin
1887 was the fiftieth anniversary of Pushkin's death, and James's tale may be taken as a discreet commemoration. Jeffrey Aspern is an American Byron -- but he is also an American Pushkin. This gives his creation, as a solitary Romantic genius creating a national literature, greater verisimilitude. In the preface James faces the question of credibility in a manner not inconsistent with this suggestion:
My friend's argument bore then... on my vicious practice, as he maintained, of postulating for the purpose of my fable celebrities who not only _had n't_ existed in the conditions I imputed to them, but who for the most part (and in no case more markedly than in that of Jeffrey Aspern) could n't possibly have done so... It was vicious, my critic contended, to flourish forth on one's page 'great people', public persons, who should n't more or less square with our quite definite and calculable array of such notabilities; and by this rule I was heavily incriminated. The rule demanded that the 'public person' portrayed should be at least of the tradition, of the general complexion, of the face-value, exactly, of some past or present producible counterfoil. (NY xii)
If James shows himself unperturbed by this animadversion, is it because he rejects the proposed rule or because in the case of Aspern he does have a 'producible counterfoil'? His answer to the objection is rather elusive (indeed James's prefaces systematically throw up a curtain before readers too anxious for extra illumination on the meaning of his works; he will tell us all about his sources and the compositional challenges he faced, but he is a master of discretion whenever the temptation arises to offer an interpretation of the final text itself, for any such authorial comment would undermine the integrity and autonomy of the finished work):
The charge being that I foist upon our early American annals a distinguished presence for which they yield me no warrant... I find his link with reality then just in the tone of the picture wrought around him. What was that tone but exactly, but exquisitely, calculated, the harmless hocus-pocus under cover of which we might suppose him to have existed? This tone is the tone, artistically speaking, of 'amusement', the current floating that precious influence home quite as one of those high tides watched by the smugglers of old might, in case of their boat's being boarded, be trusted to wash far up the strand the cask of foreign liquor expertly committed to it. (NY xiii-xiv)
Amusement, then, licences the smuggling in of the foreign figure of Aspern. But might the image of the 'cask of foreign liquor' not refer to Pushkin, who is 'expertly' hidden in the story? James continues:
If through our lean prime Western period no dim and charming ghost of an adventurous lyric genius might by a stretch of fancy flit, if the time was really too hard to 'take', in the light form proposed, the elegant reflexion, then so much the worse for the time -- it was all one could say! The retort to that was of course that such a plea represented no 'link' with reality -- which was what was under discussion -- but only a link, and flimsy enough too, with the deepest depths of the artificial: the restrictive truth exactly contended for, which may embody my critic's last word rather of course than my own. (NY xiv)
Let us interrupt James here again to note that the 'dim and charming ghost of an adventurous lyric genius' is a description that fits Pushkin (as seen from Western Europe) better than it fits Byron or Shelley. James is confident that the primitive American period could take his elegant reflection, because the no less primitive Russia of the same period had in fact produced such a figure. Note that while James almost rejects his critic's rule, he returns to the objection and admits that it is his critic's last word. But he adds a last word of his own:
My own... was that one's warrant, in such a case, hangs essentially on the question of whether or no the false element imputed would have borne the test of further development which so exposes the wrong and so consecrates the right. My last word was, heaven forgive me, that, occasion favouring, I could have perfectly 'worked out' Jeffrey Aspern. (NY xiv)
James's confidence in the credibility of his invented American poet reposes on his awareness that Russia under similar conditions had produced such a poet.
The cultural feats attributed to Aspern are those that Russians attribute to Pushkin:
At a period when our native land was nude and crude and provincial, when the famous 'atmosphere' it is supposed to lack was not even missed, when literature was lonely there and art and form almost impossible, he had found means to live and write like one of the first; to be free and general and not at all afraid; to feel, understand and express everything. (259)
Cornwell finds here echoes of Dostoyevsky's 1880 Pushkin speech (Cornwell, forthcoming). Russians treat Pushkin as a god. Aspern receives the same title: 'One doesn't defend one's god... he hangs high in the heaven of our literature' (229); 'the divine poet' (230); 'She said he was a god' (268). I do not know if Byron was ever celebrated as a divine poet, a god. Shelley is more usually characterized as an angel (notably by Matthew Arnold) or a spirit (Andre Maurois's biography of him bears the title _Ariel_), though James himself refers to Shelley as 'the divine poet':
This was the beauty that appealed to me; there had been, so to speak, a forward continuity, from the actual man, the divine poet, on; and the curious, the ingenious, the admirable thing would be to throw it backward again, to compress -- squeezing it hard! -- the connexion that had drawn itself out, and convert so the stretched relation into a value of nearness on our own part. (NY ix)
Yet the mocking and amused eyes of Aspern's portrait are less suggestive of Shelley than of Byron or Pushkin. The story takes us back to the Byronic epoch, but there is nothing particularly reminiscent of Shelley in it. There are references to Shakespeare (234, 257), a suitable match for the poet who enjoys the same eminence in Russian literature as Shakespeare in English, but an unsuitable match for Byron, though James, as an ardent Byronist, may not have thought so (see Tintner 1987:95-102). James's cult of Byron may be due to the novelistic character of Byron's works; his interest in Shelley seems to bear more on the drama of his life than on his poetry.
It has been suggested that Aspern's first name Jeffrey echoes the James Fenimore of Pushkin's American contemporary Cooper. The name Aspern not only begins with Pushkin's initials but ends with the 'er' and 'n' that conclude his first and last names. Pushkin's is a concealed name in this tale of concealed names: we never learn the narrator's true name (299) and even his assumed name is kept from us (235), and Juliana never allows the name of Aspern to fall from her lips (288). The identification of Whitman as the model of Aspern (Tambling, 48) is a farfetched proposal which indicates how desperately a model is needed to fill the felt gap, the missing corner of the gnomon.
Juliana and the Countess
The aged figures of Juliana and the Countess have the numinous stature of an archetype, shared with Miss Havisham in _Great Expectations_ (mentioned in Fuentes 1988) and, to reach further back, Racine's sombre Athaliah, or her mother Jezabel who appears to her in a horrific dream (_Athalie_, ll. 490-506). The biblical Athaliah murdered all her grandchildren except Joash who escaped (2 Kings 11.1-2). The archetype of the terrifying old woman, the hag, has associations of the spectre and the sorceress (or shamaness?). Celtic goddesses often take the form of a hag, as do the sybils of antiquity (Juliana is sybilline when she declares: 'The truth is God's' ). The archetype is perhaps rooted in childhood fears of a threatening grandmother, a figure who belongs to a remote, older world, quite different from that of the parents. The protagonists of our two stories find themselves very much in the posture of little boys fighting with their grannies or surprised by them in an act of shameful misbehaviour. The eerieness of the aged female is also due to her association with death; all of the figures I have mentioned are sighted on the extreme verge of life, the grave yawning behind them. James's phrase 'the divine Juliana as a grinning skull' (242) catches the frisson of this situation perfectly, and Racine draws out its maximum horror when Jezabel in her daughter's dream becomes '_un horrible melange/D'os et de chair meurtris_'. In a similar reduplication of the deathly hag image, Azucena in Verdi's _Il Trovatore_ recalls the gruesome death of her mother on the pyre. Miss Havisham evokes similar associations: 'Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork... Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress... Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me' (Dickens 1937:54).
AP is steeped in an aura of mystical suggestion even more intense than that of QS. Juliana represents 'esoteric knowledge' (255); she and Tita 'have the reputation of witches' (232). N. wonders 'what mystic rites of ennui the Misses Bordereau celebrated in their darkened rooms' (256). Juliana is 'a subtle old witch' (287), 'the old witch' (317). 'Old witch' (_staraya vedma_) are the very words Hermann uses as he brandishes his pistol at the Countess (Merimee has '_Maudite vieille_!'). In the later text, 'the old woman was very cunning' (283) becomes 'the old woman was full of craft' (NY 86).
N. speaks of Juliana in religious terms. He imagines he is 'face to face' with her, echoing the eschatological language of I Corinthians 13, before he realizes that her eyes are covered by a 'horrible green shade' (241). 'Juliana had not cared to lift even for her the veil that covered the temple of her youth' (266) becomes 'Juliana had forborne to lift even for innocent eyes the veil that covered the temple of her glory' (NY 61). When the eyes are at last uncovered we have a veritable apocalpyse, a Last Judgment scene: 'she had lifted the everlasting curtain that covered half her face, and for the first, the last, the only time I beheld her extraordinary eyes. They glared at me, they made me horribly ashamed' (303).
The contest with Juliana uses magical weapons, such as the narrator's false card: 'I took my false card out of my pocket and held it up to her [the maid], smiling, as if it were a magic token. It had the effect of one indeed' (236). The 'false card' echoes perhaps the losing card Hermann plays at the end of the game. The narrator's magic counters Juliana's but (at least in the New York edition) it is overcome by Tita's: 'This trick of her expression, this magic of her spirit' (NY 141), replacing 'this optical trick' which gave her a 'phantasmagoric brightness' (319). Compare the optical trick which makes Hermann think the phantasm of the Countess is looking at him from the card at the end of QS.
Aspern's ghost haunts the story: 'I had invoked him and he had come; he hovered before me half the time; it was as if his bright ghost had returned to earth to tell me that he regarded the affair as his own no less than mine' (254). Juliana has ghostly characteristics. On their first encounter N. feels 'as if the miracle of resurrection had taken place for my benefit'; she is 'literally resurgent' (241). The second version again intensifies this aspect, adding a new ghost allusion: 'the strange sound of her laugh, which was as if the faint "walking" ghost of her old-time tone had suddenly cut a caper' (NY 71). Juliana's eyes haunt Tita after her death: 'I see them -- they stare at me in the dark!' (312), just as the Countess's eyes wink at Hermann from the coffin and just as Pip is fascinated by Miss Havisham's dark eyes. Miss Havisham wears a faded white bridal dress (Dickens 1937:53). The ghostly Countess is 'a woman in white' (QS 178). Juliana at the climax of AP appears 'in her night-dress' and is a 'strange little bent white tottering figure' (303).
'I know what I'm about. I'm not losing my mind' exclaims Juliana to Tita, in quarrelsome mood (290); Pushkin's Countess says to Lizaveta: 'I... am not in my dotage yet' (QS 165). Juliana's physical decrepitude recalls that of the Countess: 'She sat still for hours together, as if she were asleep; she had always done that, musing and dozing; but at such times formerly she gave at intervals some small sign of life... at present her aunt was so motionless that she sometimes feared she was dead' (264). Compare: 'Her dim eyes were completely vacant and looking at her one might have imagined that the dreadful old woman was rocking her body not from choice but owing to some secret galvanic mechanism' (QS 170). 'Mesmer's magnetism' is also mentioned (QS 169). This is echoed in AP: 'A person observing me might have supposed I was trying to cast a spell upon it or attempting some odd experiment in hypnotism' (254). N.'s rather unmotivated remark, 'it was not my fortune to behold Juliana in her nightcap' (294), seems to be a mischievous allusion to Hermann's spying on the 'hideous mysteries' of the Countess's toilette; 'at last the countess put on bed-jacket and night-cap' (QS 169).
The name Juliana combines July, the month of the principal action of the story (Chapters 5-8), and Anna, the name of Pushkin's Countess. In English literature a Juliana was addressed by a major lyric poet: Andrew Marvell, in the Mower poems. Miss Bordereau's 'extraordinary eyes' (303) recall the lines: 'Only for him no cure is Found/Whom Juliana's eyes do wound' ('Damon the Mower'). 'The Queen of Spades betokens the Evil Eye' (QS 151), and both N. and Hermann are victims of a _jettatura_ that unmans them (James would have known Theophile Gautier's 1857 story 'Jettatura'). The Countess casts the evil eye on Tchaikovsky's Hermann in their first encounter in Act I: 'It is as though I were in the power of her eyes' sinister fire'. In the current Kirov production she eyes him at length through a lorgnette which bears a disturbing resemblence to a shears. 'I can keep an eye on you', Juliana says (290); 'I want to be where I can see this clever gentleman... I've seen you enough for today. I'm satisfied' (291). The blinding inflicted by the old ladies, whether as objects of fascination or as avenging judges, is of course a kind of castration. The 'horrible green shade' (241) that covers Juliana's eyes, which is called at one point a 'mystifying bandage' (270), and the uncanny suggestion that she is blind -- 'Do you think she can _see_?' (294) -- add more overtones in this register. (The Countess also has poor eyesight.)
The phrase 'green shade' (241, 271) echoes Marvell's 'The Garden': 'Annihilating all that's made/To a green thought in a green shade'. N.'s obsession has this annihilating effect. There is another ironic reference to this poem in the statements that N. 'must be quiet' (238), 'wanted quiet' (239): 'Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,/And Innocence, thy sister dear'. Green is the color of the secrets that haunt N.: as Juliana's eyes are concealed by a green shade, the letters are concealed in a 'superannuated coffer' which 'had last been endued with a coat of light green' (295). Hermann is obsessed with green card tables (QS 164). Juliana's comments on her death recall not only the funeral sermon in Pushkin ('the midnight coming of the bridegroom', QS 176), but Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress' ('The grave's a fine and private place'): 'Oh, sir, when I move out of this it won't be to sit in the air, and I'm afraid that any that may be stirring around me won't be particularly sweet! It will be a very dark shade indeed' (273).
Some other parallels between Juliana and the Countess may be quickly noted. Juliana like the Countess is a 'curiosity' (231), a 'terrible relic' (241). Both despise the present: 'I don't care who you may be -- I don't want to know. It signifies very little today' (244). 'There is no more poetry in the world' (273). Juliana's pronouncements have a certain melancholy majesty, befitting the inamorata of a sublime poet, which is lacking in the Countess's livelier pique, but they share the same acerbic wit: 'I want a book in which the hero does not strangle his father or his mother, and where there are no drowned persons' (QS 158). The Countess is avaricious, tyrannical, capricious, and has been spoilt by being pampered in her every wish all her life: 'She had all the caprices of a woman spoiled by society, she was stingy and coldly selfish, like all old people who have done with love and are out of touch with life around them' (QS 160). Juliana's character is also connected with being spoiled by society: 'I have always got most things done I wanted, thank God!' (290); the phrase 'thank God' is used by the Countess, too (QS 165 'thank heaven' = _slava Bogu_). Pushkin's association of caprice with age is echoed in Tita's remark: 'I think people often are capricious when they are very old' (270). In James's plot this capriciousness justifies any inconsistences that there may be in Juliana's policy toward N.
Tita and Tatyana The semantically charged name Bordereau (scroll, _bord de l'eau_, bordello) hints at a French background, which evokes not only Claire Clairmont's French name and presumed Swiss parentage, but also the Parisian youth of the Countess, her rather scandalous role as _la Venus moscovite_ (QS 154). Is the overtone 'bordello' intended? A German critic remarks that 'it must have given Henry James a thieving and quite particular pleasure' to smuggle in obscene associations 'under the eyes of unsuspecting Victorian readers' through his careful invention and combination of his characters' names (Gerber 1999:95; the same theme is discussed at length in Stevens 1998). A bordello is a place where objects of erotic desire are sold for money. The Misses Bordereau are positively haggling with N. throughout the story, dangling the portrait and the letters of his beloved poet before him as they extort money. Gradually a new price is fixed, as Tita subtly demands affection in return for her collusion, and as Juliana and Tita settle on N. as the ideal partner for Tita. N. prostitutes himself by the career of deception on which his craving for the papers launches him, and which brings him to the brink of accepting Tita's proposal: 'It seemed to me that I was ready to pay the price' (319). As usual in James's stories, sordid questions of money are at the core of the plot, and there is no character whose motivations are to be viewed without a grain of suspicion and irony. Yet the delicacy of poetry and sentiment miraculously survives them, partly because N.'s moral insensitivity had left his aesthetic sensitivity intact, and partly because of the irreducible innocence and integrity of Miss Tita.
Pushkin's Lizaveta is a rather conventional Cinderella-figure, and James makes little use of her for his portrayal of Miss Tita. Tchaikovsky gives Liza high-born status as the Countess's grand-daughter, demoting the Princess Pauline to the role of her confidante; she has a maid at her beck and call, and a splendid prince as her suitor. None of this succeeds in making her memorable; her role is too subordinate to Hermann's needs; and the audience are likely to breathe a sigh of relief when the composer has her jump into the canal. Tita has not the youth or the passionate impulsiveness of Lizaveta, yet she retains, incongruously but touchingly, the manner and the romantic longings of a girl. She is a piece of middle-aged helplessness, suffused with the melancholy of 'opportunities, for ever lost, which ought to have been easy' (278). Naive and dim-witted, she has 'missed the bus' of romance, yet her final display of spirit makes her the triumphant heroine of the story. Here James draws on a more radiant Pushkin heroine, Tatyana in _Eugene Onegin_. Tita's final 'good-bye' (319) startles and dismays N. just as Tatyana's dismissal does Onegin. She does not say 'good-bye' in Pushkin, but her last words in Tchaikovsky's opera are 'good-bye for ever'. Unlike Tchaikovsky's _Queen of Spades_ (1890), his _Eugene Onegin_ (1879) was composed in time to have influenced AP. Turgenev had the score even before the first performance and after hearing the work talked about it enthusiastically (Taruskin 1998); he could have drawn it to James's attention, perhaps on the memorable evening of June 20, 1879, when he was James's guest at the Reform Club in London (Edel 1985:237). To be sure, Tatyana is just as banal a figure as Lizaveta, yet through some magic of personality, or of characterization, or of poetry, she is loved at first sight and haunts subsequent Russian fiction. She gives wings to Tchaikovsky's opera despite its rather leaden protagonist, and it is perhaps the image of Tchaikovsky's Tatyana more than of Pushkin's that hovers before us as Tita declares: 'I can't stay with you any longer, I can't', and as she turns to give N. one last unforgettable look (320).
One wonders to what degree Tita is based on Constance Fenimore Woolson, grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper; the name Tita comes from one of her novels (Edel 1985:340). James's relationship with Miss Woolson may have inspired the masterful analysis of the false position in which N. finds himself with Miss Tita. Tita can be a diminutive for the name Elisabeta, and is particularly common in the Veneto region (as I am informed by Signora Lia Beretta); the name becomes Tina in the later version, another diminutive of Elisabeta (Bettina); thus in both versions her name is shared with Pushkin's Lizaveta. The diminutive is suited to Tita's childish character, as such names are often conferred in early years on the basis of children's babble. Both Lizaveta and Tita carry the epithet 'poor' and are putty in the hands of their insincere seducers. Both are looking for 'a deliverer to come' (QS 160). Critics have asked whether Lizaveta loves Hermann or merely needs him. The same question has been asked about Tita. The speedy compliance of both with the protagonist's desires suggests an element of intrigue in their motivations. Both betray their aged protectresses and suffer spasms of remorse. Lizaveta, undeceived, reacts predictably: 'So all those passionate letters, those ardent pleas, the bold, determined pursuit had not been inspired by love!... "You are a monster!" ' (QS 174). Tita distinguishes herself by abstention from such pique and accusation: 'I was grateful to her for not treating me as if I had killed her aunt' (307).
James's Narrator and Pushkin's Hermann Hermann's obsession is a violent one, he trembles like a tiger (QS 168). N. is in the grip of a more insidious 'fixed idea' (229), a phrase also found in QS 179. But N. gradually loses control -- his agitation in Chapter 6, his violence in retaining the portrait in Chapter 7, his succumbing to temptation in Chapter 8 are the actions of a man no longer in control of himself. Just as Hermann, in the grip of his obsession, sees the three, seven, ace everywhere, so N. can think only of the precious papers. His obsession takes on the same all-consuming proportions as Hermann's: 'One would think you expected to find in them the answer to the riddle of the universe' (229).
Hermann has diabolical characteristics, 'the soul of a Mephistopheles' (QS 173). N.'s behaviour likewise has the flibberty-gibbet 'Nabokovian' jocularity of Goethe's Mephistopheles. His examination of the walled enclosure of the garden (233) and his cry, 'I must work the garden!' (235), 'The garden, the garden!' (237), recall Milton's Satan (see Barbara Currier Bell, as reported in _The Henry James Review_ 5 , 178). When N. thinks of Romeo in the garden (260) one is reminded of Satan's envious distance from passionate love:
Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Thus these two
Imparadised in one another's arms,
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to hell am thrust...
(_Paradise Lost_ IV 505-8)
He enters the garden, as Satan enters Eden, by deception: 'Hypocrisy, duplicity are my only chance' (234). His corrupting influence on Tita is underlined: 'I felt almost as one who corrupts the innocence of youth' (279). He also corrupts Juliana: 'It was I who had kindled the unholy flame' (283); and he plans to corrupt the maid: 'I was on the point of saying that Olimpia was probably corruptible' (281). He fears that like Cumnor he will be regarded as 'a devil' (280-1); 'I am a poor devil of a man of letters' (284).
Aspern, the Austrian site of Napoleon's first major defeat in 1809 (Edel 1962:224), suits N.'s 'stratagems and spoils' (NY 141), which are thoroughly baffled. But why Napoleon? Hermann has 'the profile of a Napoleon' (QS 173); with his fierce frown and crossed arms he bears 'a remarkable likeness to the portrait of Napoleon' (QS 174), the great 'loser' in recent European history. Especially in the catastrophic Moscow campaign of 1812, in which an army of half a million was lost, Russia was to Napoleon what the Countess is to Hermann. Hermann's German origins make him, too, a foreign invader. Like Napoleon, Hermann meets defeat at Muscovite hands: the Countess is '_la Venus moscovite_' (QS 154) and the card-players in the last scene are visitors from Moscow.
The military imagery of N.'s 'plan of campaign' (229) recalls Hermann's military milieu: 'I had a foot in the citadel' (236); 'You may push on through a breach but you can't batter down a dead wall'; 'the struggle in the field' (251); 'a catastrophe might have led to some parley' (252); 'I would batter the old ladies with lilies -- I would bombard their citadel with roses' (255). NY enhances this imagery (as Cornwell also notes), changing 'the papers' (229, 234) to 'my possible spoil' (NY 5) and 'my spoils' (NY 11); 'extracting the papers from her' (244) becomes 'getting hold of my "spoils" ' (NY 28); 'a name that was not my own' (235) becomes 'a well-chosen _nom de guerre_' (NY 13). Both stories end with a bruising loss. Hermann loses his reason. N.'s loss seems lighter: 'When I look at it my chagrin at the loss of the letters becomes almost intolerable' (320). But the revised text reads: 'I can scarcely bear my loss -- I mean of the precious papers' (NY 143), hinting that N., too, has suffered a radical loss -- a loss of humanity, of integrity, and even of sanity, a loss that is subtle, invisible, in contrast with Hermann's final delirium. The revision shows N. in the act of repressing painful awareness. The loss of the papers is his deprivation of a fetish, but the deeper loss concerns the void that the fetish filled in the first place. In his 1927 paper, 'Fetishism', Freud notes that fetishists are very content with their object of desire and do not see it as a symptom of suffering or abnormality. N. never gets beyond fetishistic thinking, and shows no insight into the deeper lack underlying his abnormal behaviour. Freud's speculation that the fetish arises from a refusal to accept the absence of the phallus of the mother resonates with the themes of both QS and AP. (James could have been acquainted with the psychology of fetishism, as discussed by Havelock Ellis and others.)
N.'s negotiations with Juliana resemble a poker game, in which great psychological aplomb is required: 'it was well to let her see that one did not notice her little tricks' (253). In another card metaphor, the narrator suspects the ladies of 'a design to make me show my hand' (264). This overtone is also reinforced in the later text, where 'I should have been' (231) becomes 'I should have found the trick of' (NY 7).
Hermann, 'strangely troubled' after the Countess's funeral, 'threw himself on his bed' (QS 177). N., troubled by Tita's proposal, performs the same gesture (unusual in a James story): 'I flung myself down again on the warm sand' (316). When he sits in the gondola 'prostrate, groaning softly to myself, with my hat pulled over my face', his 'hidden face' (315) may recall Hermann's 'face hidden by his beaver collar' (QS 162). 'That most fatal of human follies, our not knowing when to stop' (316) is Hermann's folly too. The black comedy of N.'s attitude and actions recalls that of Hermann's, notably in his absurd plea to the Countess: 'If your heart has ever known what it is to love, if you can remember the ecstasies of love, if you have ever smiled tenderly at the cry of your new-born son, if any human feeling has ever stirred in your breast, I appeal to you as wife, beloved one, mother...' (QS 171). The scene is echoed in the following exchange: ' "You must remember that it has been quite open to me to think you rather inhuman." "Inhuman? That's what the poets used to call the women a hundred years ago" ' (273).
The eerie erotic overtones of Hermann's plea are replaced in AP by N.'s homoerotic attempt to reach Aspern through the woman he loved: 'I felt an irresistible desire to hold in my own for a moment the hand that Jeffrey Aspern had pressed' (246). Whereas Hermann is explosively virile (another overtone of his resemblance to Napoleon), N.'s etiolated literary passion for a poet who was 'one of the most genial men and one of the handsomest' of his day (230) and who wrote poems 'not as ambiguous as the sonnets -- scarcely less divine, I think -- of Shakespeare' (257) has a feminine or even feline cast. James subtly points up N's misogynism from the start: 'It is not supposed to be the nature of women to rise as a general thing to the largest and most liberal view' (228); ' "Orpheus and the Maenads!" was the exclamation that rose to my lips [NY 7: was of course my foreseen judgment] when I first turned over his correspondence. Almost all the Maenads were unreasonable and many of them insupportable [NY: unbearable]' (231). That prepares us for his brotherly jollying along of Miss Tita and his cold flatteries of Juliana, who is not duped. Durkin interprets both Hermann and N. as clutching at a secure homoerotic world, dominated by the matriarch and summed up in the fetish of the papers or the three cards, which they are unable to renounce, and which keeps them from stepping over to heterosexual maturity as offered by Lizaveta or Tita. Such Freudian resonances again suggest that the fable touches on archaic regions of infancy or the unconscious.
What of the insistent name of the shadowy John Cumnor? Cumnor is the town near Oxford where Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, died mysteriously, falling down the stairs; her suspected murder inspired the ballad 'Cumnor Hall' and Scott's novel _Kenilworth_ (in which she is referred to regularly as 'the Countess'). Her death is described as follows: 'He left, therefore, the Countess's door unsecured on the outside, and under the eye of Varney, withdrew the supports which sustained the falling trap... The door of the Countess's chamber opened -- the trap-door gave way -- there was a rushing sound -- a heavy fall -- a faint groan and all was over... "Look down into the vault -- what seest thou?" "I see only a heap of clothes, like a snow-drift... O God, she moves her arm!" ' (Scott 1993:389-90). Juliana appears in a white dress and raises her arm at the moment of her near-murder; James could have derived these details from Pushkin, but with a possible reinforcement from Scott. The suspicion of murder attaching to Dudley and Queen Elizabeth resonates with N.'s guilt. The somewhat sinister aura surrounding the name 'Queen Elizabeth' resonates with the names Tita, Lizaveta, and 'Queen of Spades'. The house in _Kenilworth_ has some of the aura of the fantastic that attaches to Juliana's 'prodigious house' (NY 99). Its luxurious furnishings include 'a beautiful Venetian mirror' (Scott 1993:47). It appears to be haunted after Amy's death: 'Cumnor-Place was deserted immediately after the murder; for, in the vicinity of what was called Lady Dudley's Chamber, the domestics pretended to hear groans and screams, and other supernatural noises' (ib., 391). James's tale of the 'submerged fantastic' (as Cornwell calls it) is nourished by a lifetime of reading, going back to childhood sensations in reading Scott and Dickens.
We have noted that behind the first 'visitable past', the Byronic age, lurks another, the age of Casanova and Goldoni. But James opens up a long series of increasingly ghostly pasts: the seventeeth century is represented by Milton and Marvell; the sixteenth by Shakespeare and 'Cumnor'; the fifteenth by Colleoni, and we have glimpses further back of medieval Venice and the Byzantine world of St. Mark's: 'The wonderful church, with its low domes and bristling embroideries, the mystery of its mosaic and sculpture, looked ghostly in the tempered gloom, and the sea-breeze passed between the twin columns of the Piazzetta, the lintels of a door no longer guarded'. Beyond that again lies ancient Rome, represented by the statue of Marcus Aurelius 'who rides benignant before the Roman Capitol'. James uses a suggestive image for this sequence of pasts: 'With more moves back the element of the appreciable shrinks -- just as the charm of looking over a garden-wall into another garden breaks down when successions of walls appear... The one partition makes the place we have wondered about _other_, both richly and recogniseably so; but who shall pretend to impute an effect of composition to the twenty' (NY x). James himself seems to have aimed at just this effect of composition.
Numerology in Pushkin and James Critics have found an elaborate numerological pattern in QS: for instance, the noun 'countess' (_grafinya_) occurs 52 times, as if a pack of cards were being dealt. The winning numbers, three, seven, ace (one), occur throughout the text. Could James have known of Pushkin's numerological conceptions? They may be reflected in the way AP falls into three groups of three chapters each, making up a neat three act play. If we ignore the sections in which N. is alone, each act falls into three scenes as follows:
Act I: scene 1: N. and Mrs Prest (ch. 1); scene 2: N. and Tita (ch. 2); N. and Juliana, then Tita. (ch 2-3).
Act II: scene 1: N. and Tita (ch. 5); scene 2: N. and Juliana, with Tita (ch. 6); scene 3: N. and Tita (ch. 6).
Act III: scene 1: N. and Juliana, with Tita (ch. 7); scene 2: N. and Tita (ch. 8); scene 3 (in two parts): N. and Tita (ch. 9).
In each act there is one scene with Juliana (the third, second, and first scenes respectively in each act).
Susan Kappeler (1991) talks of the 'rule of three' followed in AP as in a folk-tale. Prescinding from her complicated morphology, I observe only that the entries of Tita and Juliana as second and third in a sequence are marked as in the dealing of three cards. As in QS, the number three is omnipresent: N. is avoided for three months by Juliana and Tita; Tita has 'only three steps to take' (261) to the garden; N. has sent flowers 'for the previous three weeks' (262); there are 'three other portraits' of Aspern (288); 'three hours later' (292). Three currencies are mentioned: a thousand francs (244) -- given a sacral aura as 'the terrible three thousand francs' (251) --, a thousand dollars (245), a thousand pounds (292). The ladies receive money from America 'every quarter' (282).
The number two recurs frequently, often in counterpoint with the number three. The house is 'only two or three centuries' old (232). N. asks: 'Couldn't you let me two or three?' (239); Tita and N. wander 'two or three times' round the garden (266); she refers to 'two or three Venetian old women' (265), and ascends 'two or three stairs' (269). Cumnor 'had written two or three times' (280). N. gives Tita 'two or three addresses' (305). 'Two old ladies and an old gentleman' accompany Tita at the funeral (306). ' "We were only two", I replied, leaving out Mrs. Prest of course' (299). We also read: 'You'll make me wish to stay here two or three years' (249); ' "just a day or two more -- just two or three days", she panted' (313).
Three multiplied by two gives us six, which occurs frequently: N. has been to see the house 'half a dozen times' (229). Cumnor received 'six lines' (234) from Tita. The second set of three chapters begins with a reference to 'six weeks later, towards the middle of June' (250); Juliana wants N. to stay for 'six months more' (283); he refers to 'six months hence' (284). There are references to 'half an hour' (236, 296). He walks around the Piazza 'half a dozen times' (301). The number twelve is represented by noon (246), midnight (266, 301), and N.'s twelve day absence from Venice (305).
Three added to two makes five, a number also recurring with a frequency unlikely to be accidental: 'five shillings a year' (233); 'five minutes later' (235); 'fifty rooms' (239); 'five times as much' (244); 'four or five days' (269); 'We swept in the course of five minutes into the Grand Canal' (276); 'a house five times too big for her' (284); 'five words written on a card' (306) (this is N.'s second card). The year 1825 (5 x 365) is mentioned (230). Aspern was 'about twenty-five years old' at the time of his portrait (288). Three is multiplied by five: Mrs Prest has 'been established in Venice for fifteen years' (228). N. had 'spent three weeks in Venice... five years before' (231). Juliana has been in Europe 'nearly three quarters of a century' (256); Juliana, Tita jokes, is 'a hundred and fifty' (268) (this would make her a contemporary of Pushkin's Countess). There are references to 'a quarter of an hour' (241), 'an hour and a half' (296). What further significance these recurrent fives may carry I am unable to determine.
'Five' may be taken to replace Pushkin's 'seven'. What of the ace? The number one occurs memorably in Tita's statement that she has burned the papers 'one by one', a phrase repeated 'mechanically' by N. (320); 'I coldly echoed it' (NY 142). At the close of QS Hermann fails to place an ace beside an ace, one by one, but in AP Tita triumphantly produces her winning card.
The 1888 text of 'The Aspern Papers' is quoted from Henry JAMES (1999), Complete Stories 1884-1891. New York: The Library of America.
QS = PUSHKIN, Alexander (1962). The Queen of Spades and Other Stories, trans. Rosemary Edmonds. London: Penguin Books.
NY = The Novels and Tales of Henry James, volume XII (1936). New York: Scribner's.
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