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Selfless Love V Egotism: Women's Power and Role in Henry James's the Jolly Corner

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          Selfless Love v Egotism: Women's Power and Role in Henry James's The Jolly Corner

                    In Henry James’s text -The Jolly Corner, an egotistical male protagonist, Spencer Brydon, confronts his alter ego- the person he could be or have been, with the help of a woman-Alice Staverton.  Through the confrontation, he reconciles with a potential imperfect version of himself.  In the beginning of the story, Brydon sees women as distant ideals rather than real individuals while Alice sees him as the man he is and accepts him and all of his potential versions.  Because of this realism, the women in this story and others by Henry James become the anchoring power in the text as they inspire men to accept who they are.  In the meantime, women protest against economically defined and oriented masculinity and emphasize it is love that gives value to men.  However, even though women maintain power over men in the story, they can only achieve visibility by performing subservient roles such as being confidants, to men in their lives.  

                       Men, in The Jolly Corner, are so self-absorbed because they are obsessed with ideal versions of themselves.  Prior to discovering the alter ego, a ghost, the person Brydon could be or have been, the text indicates Brydon does not care for anything but himself (James 322).  By calling the ghost a "stranger" and a "brute", Brydon makes clear that he is ashamed and unable to accept such potential version of himself (James 339).  Further, by claiming his alter ego is "hideous" and "offensive", it shows Brydon can only accept the ideal form of himself (James 321).  Brydon constantly asks Alice to compare himself with his ideal forms to see if he is as good as what he could potentially be (James 322).  Collectively, this marks men as hopelessly egotistical, and also signifies their fixation on ideal over real versions of themselves.  In this way, James suggests that men are unrealistic about themselves, feeling haunted by what they lack, expect or could be or have been.

                  In fact, throughout a number of James' stories, egotism produces a fixation on not only a past self, but also a possible future self.  For example, in The Beast in the Jungle, Marcher, the male protagonist, "within the tight enclosure of his ego", is obsessed with becoming an ideal version of himself, through a transforming event in the future (Haralson, Johnson209).  He tells May that he wants to be "heroic" and "a man of courage"(James 291).  However, at present, Marcher is afraid that he is not ideal.  He admits that "a man of courage know[s] what he is afraid of-or not afraid of "and he knows none of these (James 292).  Because of this tension, between Marcher's fear to accept an imperfect self at present and his aspiration for greatness, a fixation on the unknown but possibly ideal future gives Marcher a suitable solution to ease this tension and continue chasing after a heroic self.

                 This egotism in men in The Beast in the Jungle gives them the need to devalue others, especially their loved ones- the women, and reject love and happiness women in real life have to offer.  Marcher loves himself to a sense that he will devalue and condemn anyone around him who has anything that he lacks.  In May and Marcher's acquaintance in Weatherend, he envies May when he perceives that he does not possess what May has -empathy and love.  Right way, he devalues May to a low social status in order to satisfy his own egotism by acting as a superior and socially placing May in a ranking of "a poor relation" in the house (James 278).  After this acquaintance, May shares a platonic relationship with Marcher, waiting with him to see his alleged future for her whole life.  They go to dinner, theater, and social events together.  However, Marcher uses his secret future as an excuse, refusing to marry May.  He makes this decision on his own without hearing May's opinion.  This action does not put May and Marcher in equal standing as he assumes he is in control of May.  Marcher is careless about May.  Marcher does not want to marry May.  However, he uses May, who loves him selflessly, for information about his alleged future.  He visits May for help to process his thoughts on his alleged future.  Marcher "accuse[s]" May of "seeing" the future of him (James 288).  He confronts May, accusing her of knowing "what [will] happen" and is holding it back from him (James 292).  He even irrationally and cruelly thinks that to watch May die is the future that he has been waiting for (James 294).  Marcher’s obsessive narcissism takes up all of his energy and attention, causing him to make an irrational choice refusing a real domestic life with May.  Collectively, narcissism causes Marcher not to live his real life, and makes him miss the only chance for greatness-that is to embrace May's love and accept the happiness and love she has offered.  

                    In The Jolly Corner, this idealism extends to men viewing women as distant ideals rather than real individuals.  In Brydon's perspective, Alice is”perfection", a person whom nothing can alter (James 321).  Knowing Alice's life ordeals, Brydon still perceives Alice as exquisite as "some [unique] pale pressed flower", more of a flawless distant subject than a living person (James 316).  For Brydon, Alice is a survivor of “antediluvian social period" through the "modern crush" (James 315).  Brydon views Alice's youth, home, and ideology as eternal as if she is immortal like a goddess.  Further, Brydon refers to Alice's help as "benedictions”, considering her as a goddess that revives him with her divine power (James 337).  Brydon traps Alice, making her into a dead ideal rather than a living and imperfect human being.  This suggests it is that men pursue ideals so obsessively that they essentially dehumanize the women in their lives.

                  Even though men in The Jolly Corner can only view women as ideals, women see themselves and men as real individuals.  The female protagonist Alice implies that she sees herself as a mortal who is not perfect and can change over time (James 321).  Brydon was presented with selfless perpetual love of Alice.  Alice loves Brydon for who he is -an imperfect real person who is afraid of what he lacks.  She explicitly says to Brydon that she, "has liked him" unconditionally and continuously, for over one third century (James 321).  Alice is also able to accept any potential versions of Brydon.  She mentions in the text " [the potential version of Brydon] was no horror. [She] had accepted him" (James 339).  

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