This article proposes that the tragic intensity of Henry James’s major phase—an intensity marked by highly recursive nuances of represented psychology, by a frankness about the power of erotic love both to redeem and to destroy, and by elaborate metaphoric conceits that in their mysterious richness remain unrivaled in the history of the novel—is always accompanied by, is indeed deeply enmeshed with, a contrary tendency that is bawdy, unserious, low. It isolates the obscene double entendre as the linguistic device by which James most directly conducts the bawdy countercurrent in his late fiction, a countercurrent the article reads in terms of Jamesian camp. Combining the reader-response theory of Wolfgang Iser with recent work in affect theory—specifically Sianne Ngai’s work on tone—the article offers readings of James’s The Sacred Fount (1901) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in terms of the strategic unseriousness enacted by his use of the double entendre. Engaging with recent queer-theoretical scholarship on James, the article suggests that the category of “camp” can help clarify James’s mischievous recourse to bawdy double entendres across his corpus and especially in his late work. Camp, it suggests, names an interpretational hesitation between generic frames like comedy and tragedy. In his bawdy double entendres, James provides a kind of resting place from what Susan Sontag has called the “excruciating” tonal textures of his major phase.
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Research Article| July 01 2018
Len Gutkin; “Vast Impropriety”: Tragedy, Camp Negation, and the Double Entendre in Henry James’s The Sacred Fount and The Golden Bowl. Genre 1 July 2018; 51 (2): 105–131. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-6899267
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