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In The Cage

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(1898)


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In the Cage

This is the first time I have read this intriguing story. The name of the central figure, the telegraphist who works "in the cage," is not given, but a great deal of other information is told about her. She has affinaced to Mr. Mudge, whom she eventually will marry. However, she seems to look down on Mudge and to be unaware that she treats him most contemptuously. (She tells him that she has been out with Captain Everard, more or less flirting with him and promising him "everything.") Mudge is lookable down upon. He is as thick as his name sounds ("sludge," "grudge," "budge," "nudge," and "fudge" are rhyming associates that come to mind), a passive, unimaginative dummy--rock steady with realizable bourgeois ambitions, dull, dull, dull. She, on the other hand, is highly imaginative and quick to see much from only a few cues--sometimes too quick and too much. I thought that she was deluded--imagining, for instance, that she was as involved with Everard as her pathetic friend Mrs. Jordan imagines that she is socially on the level of the rich titled folks in whose houses she arranges flowers. In fact I still think so, but the central figure evolves, unconsciously and very comically, a story that lets her escape emotionally intact and unscarred with her fantasies of being loved by Everard. ("Everard" is of James's sexually charged names, like "Goodwood" in The Portrait of a Lady--a name Barbara Pym picks up on even more pointedly in Everard Bone, in Excellent Women.) This interpretation does not square with others that I have read. These see the telegraph woman as grounded in reality and more self-aware than I think the text supports. What do you Literature Network Forum readers think? Also intriguing to me is that, if I am reading the story correctly, James doesn't clarify the details that lead to Everard's marriage to Lady Bradeen. There is some scandal or shenanigans with recovered telegrams and codes ("794961") that the central figure is involved with in some way that facilitates the Bradeen-Everard alliance, one that I gather is also made not out of love but out of duty and threat of scandal. (What a view of relationships!) Why does James obscure the details? Or does he? Is there a way to figure out what has happened but I'm too thick to "get" it? I'm a humble student of this stuff. Tell me, O ye geniuses out there! Finally, what does it all mean? The end of the story brings in, gratuitously for the plot as a whole, a Mr. Drake, a man going to marry Mrs. Jordan. The telegraphist is struck by the fact that this Drake (male duck) has played a central role in propelling her own marriage, when he--like Everard and like most of her working associates and the people who come into the telegraph office--has nothing to do with her feelings or immediate circumstances. Is "In the Cage" suggesting that communication and understanding, the central focus of telegraphy, the main activity of the central figure's hyperactive fantasy life, and the central business of a story and a novelist like James, is less controllable than logic would have one believe? Does James's obliquity of style mirror this condition? To what extent is this state of affairs a result of life in late nineteenth century London?

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