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By John Carlos Rowe

Rowe examines James from the views of the psychology of literary impact, feminism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, literary phenomenology and impressionism, and reader-response feedback, remodeling a literary monument into the telling element of intersection for contemporary severe theories.



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The only escape from the critical practice of James's fiction is the "theory of the novel" both represented and dramatized in the Prefaces -"dramatized" in the sense that the theory assumes the "personality" of Henry James, the Master, who is the "figure" both reading and writing the texts we catch as mere glimmers from tidal depths. The narrative principle in this critical study, then, is dialectical and intertextual- both within the individual chapters and from chapter to chapter. The limitations of each theoretical outlook become the means of bringing these diverse theories into relation, rather than of dividing and discriminating discrete "theories" in the humanities as is customary.

It is true that authors try or used to try, to close it; curiously enough, Barthes reserves the term "classic" for texts in which they more or less succeed, thus limiting plurality and offering the reader, save as accident prevents him, merely a product, a consumable. "32 There isn't anything very "curious" at all about the set of analogies that Kermode attempts to establish between his own definitions and Barthes's terms at the end of The Classic. Barthes's "modern text" is equivalent to Kermode's "modern classic" clearly enough; Barthes's "classic" is then simply killed off in Kermode's ritual exorcism-he merely names "dead" what he had termed throughout the work the "imperial" classic.

The modern classic, and the modern way of reading the classic, are not to be separated. 29 Kermode is basing his generalizations here on his preceding discussion of Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, which is a sort of prototype of the modern classic that nevertheless recalls the older classic's imperial claims in such motifs as the Pyncheons' "lost" American property and the quaint pretensions of the belated heirs to the original Pyncheons' title, crime, and curse. Kermode is performing here one of his characteristically deft acts of rhetorical legerdemain.

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