I tried to be civilized and cultured, believe me, Gentle Reader. I tried not to scream invective at one of the most revered icons of English Literature, a master of prose, the creator of dozens of exquisite novels documenting transatlantic life in the 19th century. Ever since I read that stupid, stupid story, back in August, I have been fighting the urge to not to howl in fury, to take Henry James’s ghost and shake him till his stupid teeth rattled in his stupid head. I’ve been reminding myself that I have a degree in English Literature, and have spent most of my adult days (and my childhood ones, for that matter) in academia- I simply cannot blog about what an asshead this worthy genius of prose and fiction is. Why, look, each of his paragraphs is one sentence long! Is there any greater proof of writing ability- at least for the pre-Hemmingway novelists?
But now, with my father lying in a surgical coma, the force of our emotions shuddering across continents, I can hold it back no longer. Really, Henry James? Really? Living without falling in love is the worse thing you can think of? And you write this whole novella, acclaimed as a masterpiece of English Literature and language and life in general, talking about this poor fucking Englishman who lived his life without falling in love? And this was something dreadful, dreadful, the beast in the jungle? Fuck you, fuck you, you bastard.
Let me rewind: The Beast in the Jungle, which I had the pleasure of reading for the first time this summer, is a novella describing the life of an upper-class English “gentleman” living his days of ease and comfort out on London. The only thing that marred his smooth existence is his vivid premonition that something awful is going to happen to him, like a beast which will jump and tear him apart. He confides his fears to a lady friend, and together they have long complicated flowery dialogues, little polished gems of prose, about what this terrible thing could be. Towards the end of the novel, the lady friend tells him she has figured it out, but cannot tell him, and shortly afterwards she dies of an unnamed illness. The stupid ass-head dude wanders around the world for a year, and then realises that was his doom: he lived his life without falling in love. This was the beast in the jungle, the terrible thing that was to happen to him. He returns to London and throws himself on his lady friend’s grave in an agony of grief and remorse. The End.
Have you ever heard of anything so stupid? So ridiculous? And we mock rom-coms and Hollywood for showing fake stories of love and couplehood, for ruining lives and loves because of their unrealistic expectations and portrayals of love. This is the worse thing that can happen to you, according to one of the most eminent figures of English prose, so fucking eminent that no-one I know has actually ever read him, and Nicole Kidman starred in a flopped movie based on one of his 10000000-page long novels. Never mind death, (Reader, I refer you to Kingsley Amis’s excellent yet overlooked gem, The Anti-Death League), never mind disease, never mind fucking poverty and living in insecure and unstable conditions. Never mind violence, never mind loss and heartbreak. Never mind jealousy, lousy parents, evil and malicious people peppering your life. Never mind just plain lack of talent and understanding, lack of a generous heart. Just not falling in love. That is worse than all those other things. No wonder the media is so screwed up, and so intent on screwing us all up. When the master of fiction writes such a fucking stupid story, what can we expect of their lesser minions?