Sunday, March 01, 2015

Confidence (1879)

It was interesting to me to read that Henry James took a dim view of Washington Square, the novel that followed Confidence, and also later in his career extensively reworked The American (to its detriment, according to an evident majority), which came before. Confidence he left as is. It is routinely damned with the faint praise that it is "light," and that's one way of putting it. It's muddled more than anything. It seems to be about friendship but ultimately in such a slight way that the theme feels more tried on for size. It includes one of James's more enigmatic female leads in Angela Vivian, the pensive woman of good character who suffers one way or another. We get powerful intimations of something mysterious about her in the vivid opening scene, but it never amounts to much. The tiny universe in this short novel of six or seven characters moving about the globe separately and together feels unusually constricted this time. They simply can't get away from one another, no matter how far they go, in one after another coincidental meetings in strange and/or exotic places. I like to think James more or less stood by the text of Confidence because he might have got something right in Angela Vivian, some ideal of a perfectly mysterious and mysteriously perfect woman. He seems to be fascinated by the strangeness of her, which comes through in flashes. It's a certain level of manner and mood objectified for the luster of its surfaces. Yes, she is indeed seductively fascinating, until the moment willy-nilly she turns conventional and the way too late-breaking conflict is tied with a bow. Curtain. No, he couldn't have been too proud of or happy with that—I speculate—but perhaps he felt hitting those high notes justified it. I don't know. Angela Vivian is a wonderful character until the conventional ending is called for. Nothing is ever really explained about her, which is frustrating. But is that frustration maybe even intentional? After all, every mystery loses its allure the minute any of it is explained. That's something any dime-store stage magician can tell you. Still, I'm left curiously unsatisfied, even if that's how I'm supposed to be left.

"interlocutor" count = 1/228 pages

In case it's not at the library. (Library of America)

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