Printer Friendly

More than a Line: The Unmistakable Impression of Significance and the Dashes of Henry James.

Henry James's authorial signature clearly is bound to the undecidability in the stylistics of his published prose. His personal notebooks, however, reveal that the horizontal line (in the form of dashes and underlining) is how this former visual artist notes (to himself) what is significant in his private texts. Using a passage from his notebooks and several from his published works, this essay explores how James uses the visual line to generate otherwise unspeakable significance in both his private notes and in the works he intended for publication. We begin with a modest note that will eventually become "The Jolly Corner":(1)

Rome, Hotel d'Europe, May 16th. [1899] Note the idea of the knock at door (petite fantaisie) that comes to young man (3 loud taps, etc.) everywhere--in all rooms and places he successively occupies--going from one to the other. "I" tell it--am with him: (he has told me;) share a little (though joking him always) his wonder, worry, suspense. I've my idea of what it means. His fate, etc. `Sometimes there will be something there--some one.' I am with him once when it happens. I am with him the 1st time--I mean the 1st time I know about it. (He doesn't notice--I do; then he explains: `Oh, I thought it was only--' He opens there is some one--natural and ordinary. It is my entree en matiere.) The denouement is all. What does come--at last. What is there. This to be ciphered out(2)

The disjunctures, the disruptions, the gaps, the breaking of thoughts where James signs the text as indisputably his--these mark the generation of Jamesian significance; they tangle his narratives but signal what his text is ultimately "about." The author's premiere literary signature lies in his ability to give utterance to elusive meanings that cannot be spoken outright.

In James's original notebooks--in the journals he kept for notes on publications and the tiny pocket diaries he walked around with--horizontal lines abound: lines run between words; lines run beneath them. The visual impact of his ubiquitous lines (in the original notebooks) is inescapable. They delineate thoughts, break apart clauses, underscore ideas, and give emphasis. In short, they are part of his personal lexicon and integral to the coding of his thoughts. When his notebooks are eventually published, thirty-one years after his death, the countless dashes make it into the published notes, but the copious underlining is translated into italics. The bold editorial act of italicization maintains the stress placed on select words, but it destroys an important facet of James's notes: the sheer number of horizontal lines traversing his text and thus the significance he placed on the physical line itself. In viewing the original notes, the impression one has, the visual image inscribed on one's retinas and in one's brain, is of an almost illegible scrawl punctuated by a plethora of horizontal lines. Obviously (in the original notebooks) the horizontal flourish is essential to James's thought processes. Emphases certainly survives in the translation for publication--on those words that are italicized--but what is lost is the significance attached to "the line." In James's original notebooks, the horizontal line is unmistakable and therefore significant. This impression of significance, I want to argue, is crucial to understanding the larger Jamesian text.(3)

The visual--both linguistic representations of visual images and visual impressions of material texts--plays such an important role in his work that it is ultimately impossible to distinguish between James the literary artist and James the visual artist, even if the medium under discussion is language.(4) His early formal training as a visual artist constantly surfaces in his later literary endeavors in a variety of ways, and numerous early critical studies are devoted to the visual aspects of his works. Allan Wade's The Scenic Art (1948) and Alexander Holder-Barell's The Development of Imagery and Its Functional Significance in the Novels of Henry James (1952) discuss James's acute attention to visual impression and his particular penchant for rendering scenery and tableau.(5) John L. Sweeney's The Painter's Eye (1956) and Laurence B. Holland's The Expense of Vision (1968) push the image-oriented analyses of his texts further by discussing James's literary endeavors in terms of formal composition of visual imagery.(6) More recent critics such as Susan Winnett (1984) have approached the visual impressions of James's texts through his implicit and explicit use of "framing" devices.(7) Of course, throughout his novels James, himself, calls attention to the relationships between visual and literary mediums by having artists and works of art play conspicuous roles in novels such as The Ambassadors, The Princess Casamassima, and A Portrait of a Lady.

Yet the blurring that occurs between the visual and the written in most literary works, and even those of Henry James, is not simply a matter of apparent content. In "Space, Ideology, and Literary Representation" (1989) W. J. T. Mitchell explores what he identifies as the tension between visual or spatial analysis and literary analysis:

The first thing to say about the notion of space from a literary point of view is that it does not exist, or should not exist. Literature ... is a temporal art. Space enters into literature only as a dubious fiction, as a phantom in the minds of overimaginative readers, as an invasion from alien and rival art forms like painting, or as a necessary evil in the transmission of verbal art by the spatial, visible traces of writing.(8)

Mitchell argues that the dominant tendency in Western literary theory is "resolutely iconoclastic, that is, antipictorial, antivisual, antispatial."(9) If the spatial exists in literature, he argues, it does so coincidentally, as a negation, a site of literary blindness, a utopian space that exists only in its absence from the temporal. This essay focuses precisely on such a negation, on such a non-site or "blank" in the text: James's "phantom" signature, which begins and ends with the simple line.

The unravelling begins: "Note the idea of knock at door (petite fantaisie) that comes to young man (3 loud taps, etc.) everywhere--in all rooms and places he successively occupies--going from one to the other." Three horizontal lines, one below and two behind, are drawn by James in the sentence that begins this brief note sketching out what is to be one of James's last stories, "The Jolly Corner." "Petite fantaisie" and "everywhere" carry unusual emphasis; one term is borrowed from French, as if the English language was unable to convey the desired meaning, and the other term is underscored. They are obviously important to James, but how are they to be read? Together they appear to be the kernal of the story to come.(10) Encrypting himself in a family residence, owned by him but left vacant and unfurnished for a certain ambiance, Spencer Brydon, the protagonist of "The Jolly Corner," will be haunted by a spectral manifestation of all that is repulsive and horrific within himself. An apparition of that which is most psychologically disturbing to him is phantasmatically materialized in the story, wearing his face. This is no "small fancy" to the story; it is central, crucial. In "The Jolly Corner" the "petite fantaisie" is indeed "everywhere"; the unconscious is worn on the sleeve. Brydon's abjection is projected outward and hangs about his apartment like drapes.

Psychoanalytically, the "petite fantaisie" can be understood in terms of Abraham and Torok's (1979) notion of psychic encryption, whereby traumatic materials or events are held unresolved in the mind.(11) Thus in the narrative James approaches explicitly in "The Jolly Corner" (and elsewhere, in The Beast in the Jungle and The Sacred Fount) what he performs implicitly in his style. Abraham and Torok's crypt, that which holds the "petite fantaisie," is a blank in the mind that is analagous to the "blank" that appears in James's texts, the horizontal line, the dash: it contains unrepresentable, and hence unnamable, material that nevertheless exerts a force on the psyche (the text). The blank or crypt cannot find resolution (nor does it want to) and causes a significant disturbance whenever it is directly approached. That which the crypt contains can only be materialized as something else; that is, it must be coded or "ciphered out." In their work, Abraham and Torok discuss repressed psychic material, but the analogy holds for the mark of punctuation as it appears in James as well. Unrepresentable significance must be ciphered out.

A vast amount of psychoanalytic criticism encompassing a wide range of approaches centers on what can best be termed "the unnamable" in the work of Henry James. Susan Winnett (1984) uses both Abraham and Torok and Jacques Derrida to read The Sacred Fount; Dennis Foster (1984) applies Lacan to unravel What Masie Knew.(12) And John Carlos Rowe (1984) discusses multiple Freudian readings of James's texts and weighs the value of such analyses.(13) Psychoanalytic treatments of James abound. Although specific psychoanalytic readings of James's work are not the focus of this study, what is of primary concern is the application of psychoanalytic insight to the reading process, manifested here as the validity of examining a line, a blank in the text. If one defines the psychic mechanism as a "rhetorical machine" (as Rowe does), then all psychoanalytic approaches presume (explicitly or implicitly) that the psyche is itself a "text" that potentially can be deciphered. Thus the dash in the "text" of Henry James-as a repeating, significant element--has a certain, idiomatic importance.

Predictably, "The Jolly Corner" revolves on Brydon's fleeing or facing the "dark stranger," which, of course, only turns out to be himself. But here is a key to this study: in the first sentence of a note we have the "under-lining" of "The Jolly Corner," before the story is even written--two words in a sentence of a note, linked simply because they are emphasized, commanding attention as if a line were drawn between them: "petite fantaisie--everywhere." Indeed, for the story to be written, "the denouement is all [that is left]."

And what of the second two lines in this first sentence, those that come behind words? Of a different register, they endure the translation into print. But what and how do they mean? Although the dashes in James's sentence are of lesser consequence than the gallicism and the underlining in this particular instance, they still carry with them a sense of importance that exceeds that of a mere pause.(14) "Everywhere" is clarified: "--in all rooms and places he successively occupies"; but it is then complicated by "--going from one room to the other." The dashes in this passage allow both enhancement and disjuncture, but most importantly, they allow James to render an important ambiguity in meaning. We follow that the "petite fantaisie" is in all the rooms the protagonist is in, but it is unclear exactly what or who is going "from one to the other." Delay the dashes do, but they also break the text, interrupting and unraveling, tipping importance into what follows them as if filling a cup with water. The elements, the receptacles that follow, define, modify, and clarify that which came before them, and meaning grows and narrows. The dash allows connotation to bleed throughout the sentence and soak the text with spreading signification. Purely functional graphic machination or little capillary pumping significance in all directions? Whichever it is, the importance of the line to the Jamesian text is undeniable. In this first sentence of a note for an idea of a story, James underlines the subject (what the story will be about), but this is not enough for him; he also modifies it, tunes it. There is something he has failed to say, failed to capture, even with his underlining. Unable to say what he is after outright, the artist acts: he carves significance with his become more complicated: "I tell it--am with him"; two instances of emphasis again, one created by quotation marks, one created by a line. The second emphasis, the line, signals an abrupt change in thought (its technical function), but it also assumes a transference of significance from the "I" of the clause before it; "I" is the invisibly under-lined significance (the dark shadow, "petite fantaisie") behind the dash: the horizontal line in the text both supplants and recalls the "I" of the text. The author of the note, I (Henry James), is bound through emphasis and physical replacement to the graphic "--". The connection between the author and the line is crucial to the generation of this note's meaning. The actor, the "I" that tells it, becomes a state of being ("am with him"), and the dash is thus imbued with an authorial presence.(15) This paraph with its explicit link to authorial presence occurs again, only three sentences later, where, significantly, the "I" in the clause that follows it is not only underlined once but twice; the "I" (Henry James) is emphatically linked to the horizontal line.

Portentous, the dash signals its own growing weight: "`Sometimes there will be something there--some one.'" What is this something there? Who is this someone? The answer, of course, is Henry James. It is true that not all of the defining elements, the clarifications and such following the dashes in his texts, appear to be this grave; but because they occur so frequently and with such consideration, the dashes almost always do carry an excess of import that influences the elements around them. Even in instances where dashes appear light and almost fanciful, they inherently display an undecidability, a dark shadow that threatens more significance. Thus the delicate tonal balance struck in "He doesn't notice--I do," when nudged even gently towards the meaningful, rapidly sinks into an abyss of the ominous. A presence easily-summoned lurks in the dashes, a "petite fantaisie," so to speak, that can quickly complicate an utterance. But one does not want to overstate the case or overly indulge in melodramatic criticism; the text of Henry James is not a sinister, dark thing, and the shadows in a dash are perhaps too easily overemphasized. It is better to say that the dash has powerful significance in its ambiguity, that the connotation complicating aspects of the line gives whatever is around the mark more presence, more weight.(16) The suggestive undecidability of the dash is crucial in allowing James to speak with ambivalence of the portentous, and the portentously mundane. It is not difficult to make light of serious things, but it is very difficult to give weight to the everyday without overstatement. One of James's unique talents is his ability to render the quotidian significant, and the dash is one of his finest tools for doing so. In his review of The Complete Notebooks of Henry James, edited by Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers (1987), Donald Stanford claims, "No author ... has `sketched his age' perfectly, but James came closer to it than any other writer in English. His strongest competitor, perhaps, is Balzac in his Comedie Humaine, but, as the Notebooks demonstrate, not even Balzac worked harder or more conscientiously at his craft than James.... "(17)

Understanding James's work comes down to basic questions about how one reads it. Is the lightness of "He opens; there is some one--natural and ordinary" really that buoyant? Probably so, or only maybe so. The verb of being is given the stress of an underlining and, again, "someone" is situated between the line beneath and the line behind. Enough, we should allow that James can finesse the dash as well as bury it; not all of his stories are as dark as this one turns out to be, and besides, this is still only a note on a story not yet written--the note therefore may overstate. The insouciance one desires might be found in "`Oh, I thought it was only--'."

How do we understand James's ruptured text, and what do we do with all of these lines and dashes crossing it? Maybe, one could point out, the words are the important things, and it is they that demand and color the dashes. Yes, but any graphologist worth his or her salt would not fail to emphasize that even to argue that word choice determines how a dash is to be read in each individual case, acknowledges that the dash is motivated, in any case; it may be only a gap in the text, an idiomatic void, but it has significance, it has presence.

Critics of Henry James approach his style both interpretively and linguistically, but seldom are the two approaches compatable. The organic analyses of critics concerned with stylistic impressions and general effects, such as those undertaken by F. R. Leavis (1966) and Laurence Holland (1968), are criticized for their "undue subjectivity" by the likes of Seymour Chatman (1972) and Mary Cross (1993), proponents of linguistic precision.(18) In The Later Style of Henry James, Chatman gives an incredibly detailed linguistic analysis of style in James's later works.(19) He determines, for instance, James's intangible grammatical subject frequencies, and compares them to those of his contemporaries. Roger Fowler (1981), leader of the New Stylistics, has continued to argue for such a "detailed" approach to literature, but he is justifiably countered by critics, which include both Stanley Fish (1981) and Barbara Herrnstein Smith (1978), for overvaluating minutiae that often lead to "ridiculous interpretations" of literature.(20) It is true that interpreting the work of Henry James through his use of punctuation would indeed be more than a little "ridiculous," but it is also true that a line in the hands of an artist can be incredibly evocative. A detail as small as a mark on a piece of paper can act as a lever with which an artist can raise a tremendous amount of meaning.

In James's work the horizontal bar in the text is his tool of leverage. The presence in the dash, in the gap of written language, is the underscored "I" of the text, the voice speaking "Henry James" from the void. His preoccupation with horizontal lines in his notebooks and his use of the dash in his published works are a graphic signature effect of meaning, in textual disruption; the line gives an impression of significance ("meaning--here") where language alone fails. The validity of this approach, this way of reading James, lies simply in the fact that these are his notes--to himself--and thus they tell him, Henry James, how to understand what he has written. Now what do we make of this? "What does come--at last? What is there? [in the line]."

Having identified the line as a locus of auto-graphical-significance, in the original notes of Henry James, the impression of this Jamesian flourish, as it appears in the published works, assumes greater importance.(21) The dash, not the italicization of words, is the significant device of the "public" works; the visual horizontal line that is the cartouche of importance in the notes is also the harbinger of implied value in the published works.(22) Visual underscoring drops away, but visual signal is kept; the dash is the stroke of meaning.

You affect me as by the appeal positively for pity: you convince me that for reasons rigid and sublime--what do I know?--we both of us should have suffered. I respect them then, and though moved and privileged as, I believe, it has never been given to man, I retire, I renounce--never, on my honour, to try again. So rest forever--and let me! ("The Jolly Corner," 468)

Stressed words are italicized in this excerpt from "The Jolly Corner," but what is crucially "Jamesian" are the horizontal lines that visibly remain in the text, these are the disruptors of text, the markers of undecidable, qualified significance. The dashes are the rigid but sublime graphemes of ambivalence. Rupturing the surface of the text in the first sentence, they allow for an aside, a break in consciousness, and the insertion of doubt. The declarative moment of the text is ripped apart and doubt ("What do I know?") is stitched in. The dashes separate and suture, incise and sew. Rather than using parentheses (the contents of which may float away), James staples his equivocation into the sentence.

The oscillation in this sentence is countered, however, just as forcefully with the determination of the sentence following it: "... I retire, I renounce--never, on my honour, to try again." Thus the dash does not mean "ambivalence," or "confidence" -- it does not mean specifically any thing; it is only a marker of significance, inherently carrying both vacillation and definition within it. This graphic gesture of meaning signals a constant movement toward and away from significance. Indexical to the over-determined impression of significance, it commands, "Consider this!" as if it were a pompous appendage beneath a signature. But this type of close reading is impossible to sustain; one cannot stop to ponder the many possibilities of what is actually being said each time James uses a dash; reading backwards and forwards, and backwards again, one would never finish a book. And, as we have seen, reading too closely, one cannot understand James at all. Pull at that stitch in the text, scrutinize it, and try to comprehend what unravels; appreciate, for instance, what the dash does for this utterance: "So rest forever--and let me!"

James's text is significantly, unequivocally, undecidable. And that is why the dash embodies James's "signature" so well.(23) The dash highlights or causes a break in textual meaning, where layers of significance shift like tectonic plates moving aslant of one another so that strata of meaning break and transpose like lines of sediment. James points to these moments of movement, these destablizing shifts in meaning through the impression of significance embodied in the dash: "There!" he cries, "That is important!" And the "petite fantaisie" momentarily appears once again. These ruptures in the text reveal that for which there are no words, the ephemeral significance generated from collisions of words and meanings. The "unnameable" shadow breaks through the surface of language. The dash hails these disruptions, proclaims these moments of unrepresentable importance.

A Reader Response approach would cite the dash as one of those moments of disjuncture that allows for reader participation with the text--an instance where audience subjectivity enters the work.(24) Wolfgang Iser (1980) contends there are certain gaps in a text (he calls them "blanks") where narrative voices shift, and these are the locus of the reader. He claims "the blank in the fictional text induces and guides the reader's constitutive activity. As a suspension of connectability between textual perspective and perspective segments, it marks the need for an equivalence, thus transforming the segments into reciprocal projections, which in turn organize the reader's wandering viewpoint as a referential field."(25) Thus, if one follows the reader response theorist, the dashes, the signature "blanks" in the text, are, perhaps, the moments when the reader is, for all practical purposes, standing in the text, which would make him or her as close as he or she could be to Henry James, for that is where the "petite fantaisie" of the author resides.(26)

Of course once the stylistic device is invested with import, the dash can work in an entirely different way as well: that is, when James simply can't express himself as he would like to, when he cannot find the words for what he wants to say, but knows that if he were able to his words would be important ones, he can always create the impression of significance by laying in a dash. Confronted with an unturnable phrase, for instance, he might be tempted to drop a dash into that void and let it perform the significant feat when he cannot rise to the occasion. In "The Jolly Corner," which is decidedly "to the point" for James, the dash is used only sparingly, occurring once in every two or three sentences. But in the novels, the larger, more complicated and demanding works, the dash conspicuously becomes a prominent feature of the text, and an awareness of its presence is unavoidable.

There are 2325 dashes in The Ambassadors.(27) This multitude is not surprising though, considering that the text itself revolves around the presence, or absence, of significance in life and the "undecidability" of communication. In rendering the protagonist's difficulty in negotiating the world and his hesitancy to enter into it, and in highlighting the constant attempts at communication between characters and the inevitable misunderstandings and misreadings that result, Henry James wields the dash to amazing effect.

It was the alteration of the entire man, and was so signal an instance that nothing else, for the intelligent observer, could--could it?--signify. "It's a plot," he declared--"there's more in it than meets the eye." (The Ambassadors, 167)(28)

The vacillating text contradicts, qualifies, suggests: "... the alteration ... was so signal ... nothing else ... could it? -- signify?" Discordant, implied meaning, ruptured text: nowhere is James's autograph more evident. Ambivalence, the presence and absence of meaning, presentation and deferment, equivocation--these are the hallmark of Jamesian style.

But it is particularly in dialogue that the wavering momentous inference of James's dashes surpasses themselves. The summoned impression of importance in these instances often obscures any meaning that is produced by the text. The exchanges appear to be significant, yet what actually transpires is largely incomprehensible.

They appeared for a little to be looking back at it; and that came out still more in what Chad next said. "I don't know what you've really thought, all along; I never did know--for anything, with you, seemed possible. But of course--of course--" Without confusion, quite with nothing but indulgence, he broke down, he pulled himself back up. "After all, you understand. I spoke to you originally only as I had to speak. There's only one way--isn't there?--about such things. (The Ambassadors, 309)

Shaken to the core, James's broken language collapses upon itself; the structures of meaning deform and break apart. All that remains is a confusion: fragments of thoughts, splinters of narrative, segments of words, irregular marks on a page, and the impression of significance.

The claim that James's authorial identity is defined by the modernist undecidability of his prose has already been well established by a wide range of critics and theorists, and this essay does not pretend to offer a new interpretation of "The Jolly Corner," The Ambassadors, or any other of James's texts. The excerpts taken from "The Jolly Corner" should illustrate what is already familiar to the professional reader, namely the story's uncanniness, its marks of strange rhetorical duplicity and indeterminacy, its psychic ghostliness. Likewise, the citations from the novel should remind one of the complexities surrounding communication and the difficulties of acting and knowing that pervade the The Ambassadors. This essay does argue, however, that the visibility of the surface of James's text obviously vies with the transparency of his narrative, for the appearance of the text (in combination with the difficulty of the cognitive arena) demands it be noticed. The many qualifications, the repeated phrases, the constant breaking up of text on the page call attention to and opaque the surface of the text; at the same time, the use of present tense, dialog, and description fosters transparency. James's physical text is thus both "opaque" and "transparent." This is all nothing new; that James's work reveals its artificial nature at the same time that it conceals it is a well-trodden critical trail. But James does not fall into the early modernist exercise of treating words simply as things; words (and punctuation) are objects in the Jamesian text, but their value lies in their use. James is an artist painting impressions of significance. In The Portrait of a Lady he renders Lord Warburton

a remarkably well-made man of five-and-thirty, with a face as English as that of the old gentleman I have just sketched was something else; a noticeably handsome face, fresh coloured, fair and frank, with firm, straight features, a lively grey eye and the rich adornment of a chestnut beard. This person had a certain fortunate, brilliant exceptional look--the air of a happy temperament fertilised by a high civilization--which have made almost any observer envy him at a venture. He was booted and spurred, as if he had dismounted from a long ride; he wore a white hat, which looked too large for him; he held his two hands behind him, and in one of them--a large white, well-shaped fist--was a crumpled pair of soiled dog-skin gloves. (The Portrait of a Lady, 5)(29)

The overall painting is James's foremost concern here; the words, the punctuation, the pauses and indeterminancies that are evident in this, for James, relatively unbroken run of text are all tools for drawing out significant impressions.(30)

The dash is the device par excellence for conjuring the moment of significance necessary for rendering full impressions. In a later passage taken from The Portrait, much is revealed to the reader as Mrs. Osmond waits on a visitor. But the significant impressions that are created by the text while she waits are done so through the effective employment of dashes.

She grew impatient at last; she grew nervous and scared--as scared as if the objects about her had begun to show for conscious things, watching her trouble with grotesque grimaces. The day was dark and cold; the dusk was thick in the corners of the wide brown rooms. The house was perfectly still--with a stillness that Isabel remembered; it had filled all the place for days before the death of her uncle. She left the drawing-room and wandered about--strolled into the library and along the gallery of pictures, where, in deep silence, her footsteps made an echo. (The Portrait of a Lady, 403)

James wields the dashes in this excerpt with such agility that they go almost unnoticed; they do not disturb at all. In fact, they facilitate and encourage the developing tones of the paragraph. So smoothly are they used that the tremendous significance developed in this passage appears simply to whelm up from the text.

Is it too much to assume that an author so concerned with the visual arts--with painting, with architecture, with representation -- would recognize and use a visual marker as a tool of the literary? Does not his self-proclaimed obsession with facade, ornament, and appearance manifest itself in the elaboration, the decoration, of text? Embedded clauses, unfathomable gaps between utterances, dashes jutting beyond the ends of sentences, leaning out over periods and commas, or stretching forth as ramparts leading into dialog--the Jamesian text has an undeniable architecture all its own. It is an impending design with sharp, moving edges; an elaborate house, disjunctive and often erupting, but always significant. And in this design it is easy to see the virtuosity of the artist using a line. That his notes to himself were thoroughly underlined and dashed, and how those lines and dashes manifested themselves in the notes, shows us that the horizontal bar creates an impression of significance multiply deployable by the author. The underlining is abandoned in the published works (keeping it would certainly disrupt the reading process), but ubiquitous lines still traverse the text in the form of dashes. The tool with such flexibility becomes a signature device for Henry James; the dash is the mechanism that is capable of performing within a sentence the things which James attempts throughout his text at large--an object invested with the author's scope. The dash, the line in the text, thus assumes an emblematic relation to the author. More than merely evoking the impression of significance, the line in the text becomes a visual representation of the author. The dash performs "Henry James."

In forensics, the impression one object makes on another is called its signature; when one agent communicates with another, even briefly, and separates--an imprint, however subtle, is always left behind.(31) In his notebooks, in "The Jolly Corner," in The Ambassadors, in The Portrait of a Lady -- in all of his texts, James has left h/s signature. The horizontal bar beneath and behind the words in his personal notebooks are the beginnings of what later becomes a signature effect of the public works--the significant impression marking the disruption of text, embodied in a dash. The recumbent line makes its way into the public works, with all its "personal" significance attached--"Henry James" is performed in graphic representation, and silence.(32) The line of ink breaking thoughts, dropping asides, enumerating options; the link bridging ideas, supplying amplification, projecting significance, delaying revelation--this is the graphic signature of Henry James, and thus James always signs his text with a line.(33)

The University of Georgia


(1) Henry James, "The Jolly Corner," in The Novels and Tales of Henry James, New York Edition, vol. 17 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, [1908] 1909, rpt. 1961.)

(2) Journal VI, 26 October 1896 to 10 February 1909 (Houghton Library). A published version of this note also appears in The Complete Notebooks, ed. Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers (Oxford U. Press, 1987). In comparing the originals held at the Houghton to their appearance in print, I have found the published notes are reasonably accurate in content, but they radically differ in punctuation; the editors, Edel and Powers, acknowledge modifications were made for "accessibility," but as the idiosyncratic form of an author's rendering of language and its impact on a text's content should be taken seriously, The Notebooks (1987) has only limited scholarly use.

(3) In addition to informing analyses of published texts, the functions and meanings of James's underscores and dashes in his manuscripts bear directly on discussions of editing James's letters, notebooks, add other private papers not intended for publication. Undoubtedly, an "impression" of significance attached to his underlining is lost in the translation of the lines beneath words into the italicization of words. And arguably, a tradition exists in American literature of attending to such details. Hawthorne writes in his "A Book of Autographs": "Strange, that the mere identity of paper and ink should be so powerful. The same thoughts might look cold and ineffectual in a printed book. Human nature craves a certain materialism, and clings pertinaciously to what is tangible, as if that were of more importance than the spirit accidentally involved with it. And, in truth, the original manuscript has always something which print itself must inevitably lose" (Tales and Sketches. ed. Roy H. Pearce [New York: Library of America, 1982], 959).

(4) In his introduction to Traveling in Italy with Henry James (New York: Morrow, 1994) Fred Kaplan notes the importance of visual art in James's works, such as "The Aspern Papers," Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl. James's fascination with the visual is, of course, most evident in his art criticism, and Kaplan claims the author is particularly drawn to Italy because "Life and art seemed interpenetrated in Italy as nowhere else" (Kaplan 1994, 10). The focus of my study is not on the similarities and differences between mediums, but it is clear that James mixed the visual and the literary in the content, and, as it is argued here, in the form of his work. For biographical data concerning James's artistic training, see Sheldon Novick's Henry James: the Young Master (New York: Random House, 1996); Alfred Habegger's The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr. (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1994); and Fred Kaplan's Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, A Biography (New York: Morrow, 1992).

(5) Allan Wade, ed., The Scenic Art (Rutgers U. Press, 1948); Alexander Holder-Barell, The Development of Imagery and Its Functional Significance in the Novels of Henry James (Bern: Frank Verlag, 1959).

(6) John L. Sweeney, ed., The Painter's Eye (London: Hart-Davis, 1956); Laurence B. Holland, The Expense of Vision (Princeton U. Press, 1968).

(7) Susan Winnett, "Mise en Crypte: The Man and the Mask," The Henry James Review 5:3 (1984): 220-26.

(8) W. J. T. Mitchell, "Space, Ideology, and Literary Representation," Poetics Today 10:1 (1989):91.

(9) Mitchell, "Space, Ideology, and Literary Representation": 91.

(10) James's employment of foreign words and phrases throughout his private and public works speaks to both his mastery of languages and his search for linguistic precision, but it also indicates his acknowledgement of the insufficiency of English words alone to convey the meanings he is after. In taking recourse to other languages for nuances, James is consciously writing beyond the reaches of his native tongue, amending the English, in a way that is similar to his reliance on underlining in his notes for emphasis. It is telling that in the Edel and Powers translation of James's notebooks into print, they italicized both the foreign and the underscored words alike: "petite fantaisie" and "everywhere" are rendered similarly and are thus implicitly accorded the same status by the editors.

(11) The psychoanalytic argument is developed here for several reasons. First, it bears directly on the content James's work and his obsession with psychological matter that cannot be directly stated but which exists, and has. significance nonetheless. Abraham and Torok's work, specifically, explains how something significant but elusive can haunt a narrative and be encoded within the language of the tale itself, in the "style" of its telling. The analysis is also provocative in that it both alludes to that which James may be unconsciously telling us, and suggests how his texts might mean to him. Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, "The Shell and the Kernal," trans. Nicolas Rand, Diacritics (March, 1979): 16-28.

(12) Susan Winnett, "Mise en Crypte: The Man and the Mask," The Henry James Review 5:3 (1984): 220-26; Dennis Foster, "Maisie Supposed to Know: Amo(u)ral Analysis," The Henry James Review 5:3 (1984): 207-16.

(13) John Carlos Rowe, "After Freud: Henry James and Psychoanalysis," The Henry James Review 5:3 (1984): 226-32.

(14) The Chicago Manual of Style gives several functions of the punctuation mark. A dash or a pair of dashes is used to: (1) denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure; (2) introduce an element added to give emphasis or explanation by expanding, a phrase occuring in the mare clause; (3) set off defining or enumerating complementary elements; and (4) imply a break in continuity that is greater than that signalled by a comma. The Chicago Manual of Style. 14th Edition (U. of Chicago Press, 1993), 185-86.

(15) Two very different studies exist on the function of the dash as it appears in the work of two other American writers; In "The Analytic of the Dash: Poe's Eureka" (Genre 16:4 [1983]: 437-66), Joan Dayan claims that Poe's use of the dash (mainly as emendation) characterizes his tense but static relation to the scientific world he writes about in Eureka, and in `Dickinson's Dashes and the Limits of Discourse" (The Emily Dickinson Journal 1:2 [1992]: 8-29), Paul Crumbley posits that the dash allows Dickinson space to shift subjectivity in her poetry, thereby allowing her to speak through a multitude of voices. According to Dayan and Crumbley, their respective subjects use the dash idiomatically--that is, in a manner that is unlike any other author; to both writers, the dash is a sign without a signified, ready to be possessed and written upon. Both Dayan and Crumbley show that publishers often radically change the meaning of a work when they take it upon themselves to alter an author's punctuation.

(16) For James, punctuation, as well as words, function as objects on a page, and thus the dash answers to what he describes in The Art of the Novel as that "sharp, black line that helps any arrangement of objects to be a picture" (1934, 101). The Art of the Novel, ed. R. P. Blackmur (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934).

(17) Donald Stanford, "Review Essay on The Complete Notebooks of Henry James," The Henry James Review 8:3 (1987): 221.

(18) F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (1948; rpt. London: Penguin, 1966); Laurence B. Holland, The Expense of Vision (Princeton U. Press, 1968); Seymour Chatman, The Later Style of Henry James (Oxford: Blackwell. 1972); Mary. Cross, The Contingencies of Style (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993).

(19) Seymour Chatman, The Later Style of Henry James.

(20) Roger Fowler, Literature as Social Discourse (Indiana U. Press, 1981); Stanley Fish, `What is Stylistics and Why are They Saying Such Terrible Things About it?' Essays in Modern Stylistics ed. Donald C. Freeman (New York: Methuen, 1981); Barbara Herrnstein Smith, On the Margins of Discourse: The Relation of Literature to Language (U. of Chicago Press, 1978). In The Language of a Master (Southern Illinois U. Press, 1988), David W. Smit assesses the. general debate over stylistics and decides that stylistics is itself a matter of interpretation, but that this is not a reason to abandon it. Smit explores, a number of stylistic theories and applications to James, and concludes, again importantly, that stylistics, as it has been traditionally practiced, cannot sufficiently account for the Jamesian text.

(21) It is crucial to describe James's involvement in the production of his published texts. In a letter to J. B. Pinker, he asked that Martin Secker, who was publishing The Uniform Tales of Henry James, conform to the punctuation employed in the New York Edition, thereby sanctioning that edition: "on [Secker's] distinct understanding, please, mat he conform literatim and puntuatim to [the New York Edition] text. It is vital that he adhere to that authentic punctuation--to the last comma or rather, more essentially, no comma." Unpublished letter to J. B. Pinker, Sept. 11, 1914, Yale University Library, cited in Leon Edel and Dan H. Lawrence, A Bibliography of Henry James (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957), 155.

In "A Toot of the Trumpet" (Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 81, no. 3 [Autumn 1978]: 297-323), Harry Girling argues that James was particularly fussy regarding the punctuation of the New York Edition, more so perhaps than in any other edition. He notes that James clearly developed his own system of punctuation, which most of James's editors and compositors either did not understand or ignored. Girling's detailed analysis is convincing, as are his railings against editors who consider manuscript punctuation as belonging to the category of "accidentals" subject to editorial discretion. For an excellent collection of essays on various aspects of James's stylistics, see David McWhirter, ed., Henry James's New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship (Stanford U. Press, 1995).

(22) During the autumn of 1896, a chronic wrist condition forced James to begin dictating his notes and manuscripts. Indeed some critics claim to be able to tell the exact place in What Maisie Knew where the change in composition methods occurs. But: whether James "spoke" the punctuation of his texts or not, he immediately revised the manuscripts by hand after compositing them and--most importantly for this study--sanctioned all the punctuation in the New York Edition after its appearance (see note 18 above). On James's use of dictation see Leon Edel's Henry James: The Treacherous Years (New York: Lippincott, 1969).

And just as the visual impression of the underlining in James's notes is lost in their translation into published works, so too are the dashes lost in the translation of the published works into teleplays. In the 1977 televised version of The Ambassadors, Lee Remick (as Maria Gostrey) often pauses significantly, but the image is probably not what James visualized the moment he penned the dash in his original notes. Inevitably, something always is lost in the translation. Other adaptations of James's works include: The Ambassadors (1950; 1965); The Jolly Corner (1977); and most recently The Portrait of a Lady (1997). For a reasonably complete list of adaptations of Henry James's works, see Anthony J. Mazzella, "A Selected Henry James Artsography," The Henry James Review 3:1 (1987): 44-58.

(23) Although Paul Crumbley's (1992) excellent analysis of the function of the dash in Emily Dickinson's poetry remains specific to her work, some of his research is applicable to James's texts. Crumbley notes that in the 1828 edition of Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language, the dash is described as "'A mark or line in writing or printing, noting a break or stop in the sentence; as in Virgil, quos ego--: or a pause; or the division of a sentence' (55a verso)" (27n). Of particular relevance to this study are Virgil's words, "quos ego--," which translates as "what I am--" or "that which I am--." With a shift in stress, the definition of the dash suits James: what I am "--" or that which I am "--".

(24) Early in this essay a psychoanalytic approach is used to explain how James's dashes relate to the author; the turn to Reader Response theory at this point in the essay is made in an effort to account for how the dashes in James's texts function for the reader. The arguments made by Wolfgang Iser, for instance, are rather convincing when applied to James.

(25) Wolfgang Iser, "Interaction between Text and Reader," In The Reader in the Text, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman (Princeton U. Press. 1980), 118.

(26) In Henry James and the Ghostly (Cambridge U. Press, 1994), T. J. Lustig explores the existence and various images of phantoms as they appear through James's works, arguing that these paranormal "blanks" are aligned with what is irrational and unrepresentable for James. Bruce Robbins ("Shooting Off James's Blanks: Theory, Politics, and The Turn of the Screw," The Henry James Review 5:3 [1984]: 192-99) uses the term "blank" to describe those areas in the work of James in which ambiguity resides. Beginning his analysis with a quote from James's Turn of the Screw--"There is not only from beginning to end of the matter not an inch of expiation, but my values are all blanks" -- Robbins argues that James criticism can either be terminal or generative; that is, criticism can either "fill in the blanks" through definitive acts of interpretation, even if the filling is constituted by a tacit acknowledgement of the "always unknowable," or it can find "value" in using James's blanks as sites of critical imagination, springboards for new readings and interpretations (192).

(27) The 2325 dashes in The Ambassadors were counted by this author in his own copy of the New York Edition. Stylistic approaches to James have treated the dash as inconsequential and marginal and, hence, there are not reliable figures on its appearance in James. Smit (1988) discusses and compares frequency rates of sentence lenghts, active and passive verbs, and so forth in samples of James's works and suggests a strong stylistic development over the course of James's writing career. He does not, however, address James's use of dashes.

(28) Henry James, The Ambassadors. In The Novels and Tales of Henry James [New York Edition] vol. 22-23 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. [1903] 1909, 1961).

(29) Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady. In The Novels and Tales of Henry James [New York Edition] vol. 4-5(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. [1880-81; rev. 1908] 1908, 1961).

(30) The three texts discussed in this essay were chosen for the following reasons: The Portrait is the masterpiece of the early period; The Ambassadors is one of the three great later works of the later novels; and in addition to explicitly dealing with "the ghost' in the text, "The Jolly Corner' is one of James's last works. Many critics have noted that as James's style developed, his meanings became more and more indeterminant, his language more disruptive and disjointed, but in precise ways. This is evident in the texts, even as they appear (heavily revised) in the New York Edition, but it is especially made clear by those studies that compare earlier editions of texts to later ones (cf. Simon Nowell-Smith, "The Texts of The Portrait of Lady, 1881-1882: The Bibliographical Evidence," in PBSA 63 (1969): 304-10; Girling 1978; and Mcwhirter 1995). The New York Edition of the texts illustrate James's mature style (because he revised the texts for it late in life), and I've chosen to use this edition of his works because James verified the accuracy of its punctuation (see note 21 above).

(31) See LeMoyne Snyder's Homicide Investigation: A Book of Practical Information for Coroners, Police Officers and other Investigators (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1944). On the forensics of signatures, see Steven Slyter's Forensic Signature Examination (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1995).

(32) In his "Lecture on Something," John Cage demonstrates that even if one regards the dash as a pause in speech, a silence among utterrances still has presence (Silences [Wesleyen U. Press, 1961], 137). See also: Ibid, "Lecture on Nothing."

(33) Incidentally, a distinguishing element of Henry James's actual signature is a line heavily drawn beneath his name. The graphological term for the underscoring with which James completes his autograph is "appendage" or "paraph." In her Encyclopedia of the Written Word: A Lexicon for Graphology and Other Aspects of Writing (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1968), Klara G. Roman defines the paraph as "a final pen-flourish ... or a free-sweeping line made over or under a name written as a signature." She claims: "Even today there are extraordinary appendages which manage to lend a touch of pomp, ceremony, or even mystery to that unique and important representation of the self, the Signature. See: Cipher ..." (45-46). In all of the examples (both originals and reproductions) of the author's signature that I have located, James signed with the supporting appendage.
COPYRIGHT 1998 University of Iowa
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Critical Essay
Date:Jun 22, 1998
Previous Article:Aphra Behn's Miscellanies: The Politics and Poetics of Editing.
Next Article:Books Received.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |