‘"Something in the ballads which they sang"’: James’s ‘Rose-Agathe’ and Tennyson’s The Princess'. Symbiosis 14.1 (April 2010)

Author: El-Rayess, Miranda


Humanities-Ebooks ‘Reprint’, 2012. 22 pages, 402kb PDF.
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An essay on Henry James and Tennyson's Princess originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 14.1 (April 2010) pp 3-18

From this Essay:

Like The Princess, ‘Rose-Agathe’ has been criticised for its apparent frivolity. Leon Edel classes it among James’s ‘shameless potboilers’ and dismisses it as a ‘trifle’ (CT 4: 7), and the majority of critical appraisals have taken similarly negative views.17 It is only in the last few years that the serious questions about gender and the objectified female body that it raises have begun to be recognised.18 If James initially intended to produce a frivolous, entertaining tale, this intention—as with so many of James’s efforts to limit himself—was subverted in the process of writing, as the complexities of the situation unfolded. The seemingly genial tone of male banter adopted by James’s narrator may be compared with the jovial atmosphere of benevolent male authority at Vivian-place from which Tennyson’s narrative springs, and the echoes between the two texts indicate common societal attitudes towards women. But in each case, the narrative and linguistic conventions that enforce these attitudes are deconstructed and questioned through the reflexive qualities of the text. In his conclusion, Tennyson’s narrator comments on the way in which the men’s comedic intentions have been subverted by the women’s songs: 'something in the ballads which they sang, / Or in their silent influence as they sat, / Had ever seemed to wrestle with burlesque, /And drove us, last, to quite a solemn close…' (Conclusion 14–17). James’s allusion to one of these powerful ballads, with all its complex implications, is a clue to the reader to look beneath the burlesque surface of his tale.


About the author

Affiliation: University College London

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