The Beast in the Jungle


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(1903)

Henry James' Beast in the Jungle is surely not for everyone, there is little action in the novella (I suppose that is the point actually) and the title could give readers the wrong idea. John Marcher, the protagonist, is reacquainted with May Bartram, a woman he knew ten years earlier, who remembers his odd secret- Marcher is seized with the belief that his life is to be defined by some catastrophic or spectacular event, lying in wait for him like a "beast in the jungle." May decides to take a flat nearby in London, and to spend her days with Marcher curiously awaiting what fate has in stall for John. Of course Marcher is a self-centered egoist, believing that he is precluded from marrying so that he does not subject his wife to his "spectacular fate". So he takes May to the theatre and invites her to an occasional dinner, while not allowing her to really get close to him for her own sake. As he sits idly by and allows the best years of his life to pass, he takes May down as well, until the denouement wherein he learns that the great misfortune of his life was to throw it away, and to ignore the love of a good woman, based upon his preposterous sense of foreboding. James' language can be a bit stilted at times, and some of the dialogue may strike modern readers as out-dated. However James was a master of the novella format, and with The Beast in the Jungle he has written an engrossing psychological drama, which left me speechless at the very end. Pick up a collection that also includes The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller if you haven't already read them, they are accessible (more so than some of James' full length novels) and great examples of the format's potential.

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Recent Forum Posts on The Beast in the Jungle

Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

To me this story seemed almost to be about a self-fulfilling prophesy in someway's. Marcher, held this belief that this great and terrible event was going to come into his life, and so he ultimately ends up being the cause of his own distress by wasting away his life waiting for this "thing" to happen to him, and ultimately the "thing" that had happened to him was his waiting for it to happen instead of actually leaving his life. If he had never had the notion or sense of this "thing" to start with, than he might have had a different perspective, and thus it would not have happened, because he would not have spent his whole life just waiting for it to happen.


Marcher vs Eden

To me, The Beast in the Jungle is infinitely scarier than The Turn of the Screw and still has me looking over my shoulder (figuratively, of course) decades after I first read it. We can all become Marcher, the poster child for regretting what one didn't do in one's life as opposed to regretting what one did. He stared down the personal demons in his life, unaware that by doing so he was playing into their hands. Anyone bowled over by The Beast in the Jungle should also read Jack London's Martin Eden, written around the same time. Both stories are amazingly and uncannily similar, though the protagonists have opposite and/or complementary approaches to life -- generally, passive vs active.


The Beast In The Jungle

An early example of a man who ruins his life by being a non- particapant in his own life,or in the times in which he lives. That May would be willing to waste her life with him, to"go down with the ship"with him, is tragic. This novella was one of my favorites when I read it almost fifty years ago, because I thought James had insightfully written about a man frozen by his fears and sense of impending disaster--a variation on FDR's statement that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


No Subject

I am a post graduate majoring in English literature and I 've always been quite ready to read stories of different styles. But I found it very much difficult for me to appreciate Jame's The Beast in the Jungle. Of course I cannot deny that man's thought is often interrupted by different kinds of things. But, in my opion, if we are to put man's psychology on paper, we should not directly record these interruptions. on the contrary, we should somehow find an easier way to take it down. Maybe as a language learner, I am not qualified enough to make that comment. But anyhow it's my personal opinion as a reader of Jame's story.
thanks for all your attention.
Michelle


Beast in the jungle

Last night I finished reading this story, and I am still under its spell. This is a truly unforgettable psychological portrait.

I don't have much to add to the above review; however I have two questions:

1) Marcher's behaviour, his very essence, is an extreme case of egotism and childishness, while May is a deep, mature and intelligent woman (not to mention beautiful). What, then does she find in Marcher? Why does she sacrifice her life for him?

2) A question about Henry James' style: is it intentionally difficult and involved, to convey more meaning by allusion and veiling, or is this simply the way Henry James writes, his personal writing style?

Thanks in advance
-- Massimo


A masterpiece.

I could greatly identify with the character of May in "The Beast In The Jungle" and because of this, the story had an intense emotional impact for me. Nonetheless, it is both a beautiful and haunting tale of egotism, fear of the unknown, and unrequited love. As others have mentioned, it is the psychology element that gives it it's power.
Should be required reading in any college Literature class (as it was in mine).


No Subject

I thought the above comment had some interesting points. I do agree that the language was somewhat difficult to weed through at times. His sentences seemed to take rabbit trails. The story overall, however, was worth the effort. While it did not leave me feeling especially joyful, I can appreciate the lesson it imparts. I see it in others and in myself, that I go through life missing the important things. James has a viable point to get across - and he does, with intelligence (if it was somewhat verbose). For those of you still working on finishing it, keep on!


No Subject

I have to disagree massimo. I hated this short story, and the psychological portrait it paints. But I will try to answer your questions nevertheless.

May initially holds onto Marcher to find out what catastophic occurance will end his life. She is interested, perhaps even fixated, and cannot pull herself away. She then becomes a victim of his own downfall, and is pulled in. As he begins to take her with him, she can no longer escape and is fully immersed in his world.

As for his language, it was simply his style. He wrote with this great, yes I will congratulate him on this, imagery throughout his works. It is one thing I must applaud him on.


No Subject

I'm a high schooler taking my classes at the local college - and this story is damn hard to read...thats all I can say. A struggle to get through the first chapter. More so, I cannot seem to get involved with the story at all. Goodluck all,

-Sam


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