At the Jamesian Altar: Commemorating Henry James’s Corpus

At the Jamesian Altar: Commemorating Henry James’s Corpus Abstract In the wake of the 2016 centenary of Henry James’s death, this article examines the idea of commemoration both in James’s fiction and in later fictional returns to James’s work. Arguing that Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘The Master at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, 1914–1916’ (2008) misreads the bodily concerns of James’s work, I return to James's short story ‘The Altar of the Dead’ (1895), noting how critics have tended to miss that tale’s critique of abstraction and its perhaps surprising attention to the material and corporeal quality of commemoration. James’s tale is, by this reading, a resonant meditation on what it means to remember the bodies of others. In contrast with Oates’s tale, François Truffaut’s film La Chambre verte (1978) and Cynthia Ozick’s novel Foreign Bodies (2010) stand as fitting tributes to this neglected Jamesian strand: both these texts take up James’s figuration of the altar to explore both commemorations of James and the ethical demands posed by thinking of commemoration as a corporeal engagement with otherness. In a letter to the Times dated 3 March 1916, Edmund Gosse offered a brief account of the literary atmosphere of that afternoon’s memorial service for his dear friend Henry James: The group of friends, a large company, must have included several whose thoughts went back, like mine, to the mysterious and poignant story which Henry James contrived to publish […] Some of us must have thought that ‘The Altar of the Dead’ of our wonderful friend had been found in the beautiful old dim church of All Saints which stood almost at his door, and into which, he too burdened with unutterable regrets, often silently slipped. As we stood round the shell of that incomparable brain, of that noble and tender heart, it flashed across me that to generations yet unawakened to a knowledge of his value the Old Chelsea Church must for ever be the Altar of the Dead.1Gosse’s touching eulogy asks its audience to imagine James, now only present in ‘the shell’ of his body, as initiating, in advance, a ‘mysterious and poignant’ commemoration of the self; ‘The Altar of the Dead’—its story of George Stransom and his erection of a private altar of candles for ‘his Dead’—seems to write into being the church’s capacity both to remember the ‘unutterable’ burdens of the writer’s silent slippages and to reserve a space for future readers’ awakenings to the author’s value. One hundred years later, one could feel that same uncannily proleptic, if elliptical, force at play in the various events and conferences organized around Jamesian ‘commemoration’, ‘memory’, ‘heritage and transmission’. In a review article reflecting on a centenary service in Chelsea’s Old Church, 3 March 2016, Anthony Lane sounded the strains of James’s tale when he reported on the ‘extraordinary passage’ from his notebooks concerning his efforts to bring the James brothers together around his sister, Alice’s grave: ‘The Dead we cannot have, but I feel as if they would be, will be, a little less dead if we three living can only for a week or two close in together here’; the service, Lane suggests, left one with the ‘disconcerting impression’ that art, as James had once written, ‘makes life’, and that James was ‘a little less dead’.2 As James himself noted, in his Preface to the New York Edition of ‘The Altar of the Dead’, the ‘sense of the state of the dead is but part of the sense of the state of the living’.3 My aim, in this article, is to trace how various authors have taken up the Jamesian figure of an altar for ‘the Dead’ as a sign of their own commemorative engagement with Henry James and his ‘sense of the state of the dead’. While altars tend to call up an idea of an abstracted, spiritualized worship (evoking the kind of discipleship of which sympathetic critics of James have often been accused), I am particularly interested in how the altar, for James and for writers responding to James, becomes a site for exploring the material and corporeal qualities of commemoration; I will argue, perhaps surprisingly, that the body is less of a ‘shell’ and more of a substantial presence in James’s proleptic writing of remembrance. Like ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ and The Golden Bowl, the titular figure of ‘The Altar of the Dead’ has proven irresistible to critics looking for a key to explain the particular effects of James’s fiction; indeed, the story has been especially attractive as a figure for complaints about the excesses of James’s late style. In Boon, H. G. Wells infamously parodied the exemplary subject of the Henry James novel as being ‘like a church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an egg-shell, a bit of string… Like his “Altar of the Dead”, with nothing to the dead at all’.4 Rebecca West, despite her admiration for the tale, and despite viewing James’s oeuvre (like Velasquez’s) as an ‘altar raised to beauty’, finds James, in his late writing, no longer lifting his ‘crystal bowl’ with ‘a priest-like gesture’; instead, he holds ‘it on his knees as a treasured piece of bric-à-brac and tosse[s] into it, with an increasing carelessness, any sort of object—a jewel, a rose, a bit of string, a visiting-card—confident that the surrounding golden glow would lend it beauty’.5 For West, as for Wells, the dissatisfactions of late James are embodied in this image of a mismatched style, a radiant and ‘reverent’ approach to mundane matter: that recurrent ‘bit of string’—cut off, unwound, resistant to interpretation—threads a sullying path across their critical altars. In a more contemporary variation on this critique, an image of enshrined detritus surfaces with a difference in Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘The Master at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, 1914–1916’ (the story appears in Wild Nights!, a 2008 collection of tales about the final days of assorted American writers). Here, Oates offers up a fantastical account of James’s actual visits to wounded soldiers in which ‘the Master’ sets up in ‘secret, in [his] bedchamber, in a closet with a lock’ a makeshift altar to the dying youths: on a beautifully carved mahogany box he had placed two votive candles to illuminate what he’d come to call his ‘sacred relics’ which consisted, so far, of several handkerchiefs monogrammed HJJ, stiffened with dried blood; strips of medical gauze stained with blood and/or mucus; clumps of hair, a signet ring, a sock, several photographs (of young, smiling uniformed men taken in the happier days before they’d been shipped away to war); even a rosary of shiny black beads, left behind by a discharged soldier.6Like Wells’s and West’s critiques of late James, Oates’s fictionalized exposure of James’s wartime closet serves as something of a corrective to the Master’s rarefied style, to its distaste for the ‘raw and unformed’ (140)—the corrective makes itself felt as HJJ’s monogrammed presence succumbs not only to a stiffening of blood but also to the rhetorical force of an inventory, a paratactic piling up of objects at odds with the more recognizable hypotaxis of a Jamesian sentence. In an interview regarding the book, Oates has recalled being pulled to this particular moment in James’s life because it unveiled an aspect of the Master usually lost in his writing: amongst the soldiers, Oates claims, ‘he sort of threw off that fastidious manner and he rose to the occasion. He was just very, very human.’7 In Oates’s tale, the altar, as a symbol of all that Jamesian style sacrifices becomes a necessary escape from Ward Six, where James feels himself ‘chastised’ in his ‘strange, unsettling intimacy’ with the human, with the sight and especially the odour of the soldiers’ dying bodies: ‘in all of the Master’s lauded fiction’, Oates’s awkwardly focalized narrator muses, ‘not one individual, male or female, inhabited an actual physical body, still less a body that smelled’ (127). Where Wells’s and West’s ‘bits of string’ signify a waste of effort, a failure of selection for the expense of James’s florid prose, Oates’s ‘relics’ suggest that his style is built on precisely the suppression of such artefacts. Oates’s story turns, as Lucy Biederman argues, on a disassociation of ‘Henry James’, the ‘institution’, from James, the person and, even, the ‘stranger’.8 So in his fictionalized diary (drawn from quotations from earlier actual letters by James), Oates’s Master transmutes the disconcerting matter of his altar into cryptic entries that ‘no biographer might ever decipher’ (132). And in the path of the story James is made subject to a self-consciously perverse series of exposures of this closeted self—whether that be in his passing recollection, with a ‘thrill of exultation’, of having attacked a cat with a cudgel (123); or in the scene of his most corporeal devotion to the wounded soldier, Scudder, on his knees ‘press[ing] his yearning mouth against the stump of Scudder’s mutilated leg’ and its ‘raw wound’ (141); or in his subsequent punishment by Ward Six’s matronly overseer, spanking him with a ‘rod’ in a ‘small, overheated room’ (143). James eventually serves his penance in the story through manual labour, subjecting himself climactically to the paratactic force of cleaning the hospital’s waste: ‘garbage, clotted hairs, floating human excrement, roaches’ (147). He is rewarded with the tale’s concluding deathly dreams of him taking a ‘sea-voyage’ (151) on a leather divan tended by Scudder while, in the waking world, he makes his final contribution to the war: ‘You see’, he persuades the nurse, ‘I must “give” blood. For that is all that I can give’ (153). Oates’s various grotesqueries are playfully outrageous, serving up James’s closeted devotions to corporeal mementoes as a kind of antithesis to George Stransom’s altar of votive reminders. The story’s dream-like conclusion also, as Biederman notes, serves as a rewrite of James’s tale ‘The Middle Years’, granting to James, like the fictional ageing author Dencombe, the second chance of an intimate connection with an other but only as he ‘cedes his authority/authorship’.9 But Oates’s implicit critique of an abstracting Jamesian style performs a disservice to the very story from which it draws its closeted trope. What Oates’s story of exposure and shame (and its reanimation of earlier critiques) misses is the extent to which James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ already refuses and complicates conventional understandings of both commemoration and embodiment. This is not just to make the obvious point that the tale’s denouement ironically exposes the limitations of Stransom’s devotion to his ‘Dead’: when ‘the far-off face of Mary Antrim’, his late wife, brings ‘the force of a reproach’ to Stransom, James allows the tale to stage what feels like a didactic reminder of the protagonist’s failure to honour ‘the descent of Acton Hague’ and a final prompting for him to light ‘just one more’ candle and to welcome back the unnamed woman who once shared his altar.10 Sigi Jöttkandt reads the unnamed woman’s resistance to this resolution—‘No more, no more’, she wails—as the tale refusing Stransom’s ethical vision, his aesthetics of substitution and symmetry.11 I am also interested in the story’s stylistic resistances, but I am more concerned with how James’s tale situates its particular ethical aesthetics in its treatment of the altar as a site of material and corporeal acts. Where Wells, West, and Oates gives us a reading of the Jamesian altar as a site of rarefying transfiguration, a site almost demanding exposure of its concealed matter, James’s story in fact reveals vital concern with the body as an elusive and essential instrument of mourning. REMEMBERING BODIES IN ‘THE ALTAR OF THE DEAD’ James’s notebook entries in preparation for ‘The Altar of the Dead’ suggest we can productively read the eventual tale as, in part, a story of its own composition and of the difficulties posed by its subject, particularly the difficulty of providing a material representation of Stransom’s devotion. In his notes, James imagines the materialization of Stransom’s commemoration as a solution to problems posed by his donnée. Where Stransom begins with ‘an altar in his mind, in his soul, more splendid to the spiritual eye than any shrine in any actual church’, James notes the need to make the altar physical: ‘I probably can’t get an adequate action unless I enlarge this idea. Let me suppose for the moment, at any rate, that he has set up a spiritual altar—either in some Catholic church or in some apartment or chapel of his own house.’12 Three days later, James positions this transition in thought as pivotal to his newly ‘clear’ understanding of his ‘little subject’: ‘My hero’s altar has long been a “spiritual” one—lighted in the gloom of his own soul. Then it becomes a material one, and the event is determined’ by him ‘wander[ing] into’ a ‘suburban (of course, Catholic) church on a winter afternoon’. But when James later returned to discussing the tale in his notebooks, it was to record his disappointment with his execution; the idea, he feels, was only ‘a little fancy’ and its narrative lacks ‘solidity’: ‘Only the fine, the large, the human, the natural, the fundamental, the passionate things’ can, he declares, stand; ‘Everything else breaks down, collapses, turns thin, turns poor, turns wretched—betrays one miserably.’13 Desiring to justify, dealing with disappointment, James’s notes, in many ways, follow Stransom’s plot of construction. Stransom does, indeed, begin the tale with a private altar ‘lighted with perpetual candles and dedicated to […] secret rites, reared […] in his spiritual spaces’ (451). And it is then, on a walk from the cemetery, when he drops into ‘a temple of the old persuasion’ in which a ‘high altar’ (456) blazes with candles, that he acquires a desire to make his worship material: ‘The thing became, as he sat there, his appropriate altar’. The candles make ‘together a brightness vast and intense, a brightness in which the mere chapel of his thoughts grew so dim that as it faded away he asked himself if he shouldn’t find his real comfort in some material act, some outward worship’ (457). But if James saw the material altar as a necessary ‘conceit’ for the narrative’s ‘action’, bringing Stransom’s private devotions into a public sphere suitable for the social drama of a story, the tale treats this transition from the spiritual to the material, from the private to the public, as ambiguously effected and ethically fraught. The shift in treatment from notebook to tale is significant: in the notebooks (as later in the preface) James identifies with Stransom as one of the few individuals capable of consecrating the dead in a superficial age; in the tale itself, however, Stransom’s establishment of a material altar renders his style of mourning (and, by extension, James’s own commemorative style) suspect. Stransom’s first approach to the altar, the moment at which he ‘ceased to feel an intruder’, comes when he gains ‘at last […] a sense of community with the only worshipper in his neighbourhood, the sombre presence of a woman, in mourning unrelieved, whose back was all he could see of her and who had sunk deep into prayer at no great distance from him’ (456–7). Starting from that most Jamesian of positions (behind the back of another character), Stransom gains and then immediately forecloses the possibility of community made present through the body of an other; while he might long to replicate her ‘prostration’, his instincts prompt him first to shift from such ‘indelicate’ contact and then to ‘los[e] himself altogether’: ‘he floated away on the sea of light.’ The shift is not only a physical movement of Stransom’s body in this space but also part of a pattern of distancing that has made his continuing abstraction of his private altar from its social sources psychologically possible: ‘If occasions like this had been more frequent in his life he would have been more frequently conscious of the great original type, set up in a myriad temples, of the unapproachable shrine he had erected in his mind’ (457). But Stransom’s instincts for abstraction also seem to be justified when, as the endpoint for this scene, the woman rises to vacate the chapel, leaving him with only ‘a glimpse of her pale face and her unconscious, almost sightless eyes’ (458). The chapel, it might seem, was built for bodies passing, sightless, like ships in the night. Like Lambert Strether in his first glimpse of Marie de Vionnet’s devotions at Nôtre Dame in The Ambassadors, Stransom, approaching from behind, establishes an imaginative, potentially queer, distance from the other’s desired body as the grounds for a community of feeling (the queerness of that position will become belatedly apparent when the story reveals Acton Hague to be the object of the woman’s devotions); like Strether, Stransom’s desires to see leave him uncertainly suspended between ‘material act[s]’ and an almost spectral erasure of his body from the scene of vision and devotion. The eventual crashing down of Stransom’s system at the end of the tale comes then as a belated, complicated awakening of the body and of the body’s connection to others, an awakening that makes a case for the self’s passionate embodiment even as it draws attention to both the social sphere’s and writing’s inevitable obfuscation of the body’s presence. Prior to this point, Stransom’s form of devotion has, in fact, been necessarily physical, an almost frenzy of movement ‘wander[ing] in the fields of light; he passe[s], among the tall tapers, from tier to tier, from fire to fire, from name to name’. But his trick has been to subject these personal motions to a kind of rhetorical erasure: while he conceives of himself as ‘face to face’ with ‘his Dead’, his own face disappears as time and again ‘He los[es] himself in the large lustre’ (481). In the closing scene, Stransom enters the church after two weeks of illness, placing himself in a familiar state of bodily renunciation and rhetorical self-erasure—‘He sank on his knees before his altar, and his head fell over on his hands […] It seemed to him he had come for the great surrender […] He had come, as he always came, to lose himself’. But here, at the point of physical exhaustion, met with the ‘human beauty’ of Mary Antrim in the altar’s most radiant candle, Stransom experiences a new sense of embodiment, one marked by a queerly resonant surfacing of shame: ‘he felt his buried face grow hot as with some communicated knowledge’ (483); his spirit is opened ‘with a great compunctious throb for the descent of Acton Hague’ (484). The immense queer resonance of Stransom’s turn—the burning glow of a knowledge suppressed and a shame realized; the ‘clandestine connection’ (483) that occasions his return to the church; the ‘throb’ of Hague’s forbidden presence—suggests that a complicated intermingling of others’ bodies marks out the moment of Stransom’s belated recognitions. As a sign of how such intermingling disrupts his propensity for abstraction and leads him toward an attenuated sense of commemoration’s materiality, Stransom’s figurative accounts of his altar take on an increasingly aural form—where he was once ‘handling the empty shells and playing with the silence’ (481) of his votive reminders, he finds himself now responding to the ‘central voice of the choir’ (483); Mary Antrim’s eyes speak ‘to him’ (484) and the candles, he informs the unnamed woman, ‘sing out like a choir of angels’ (485). Ambiguously resonant, voiced yet disembodied, the language of sound signifies Stransom’s awakening to a liminal commemorative experience, ‘playing’ between the corporeal and the figurative. And yet, it is a quieter, less spectacular but no less significant corporeal shift that structures Stransom’s final moments in the tale. The closing scene moves toward managing a striking shift between Stransom’s (and James’s) lustrously imagined ‘fields of light’ (481) and a series of pared back, carefully minimalist, perhaps unremarkable descriptions of how the bodies of Stransom and the unnamed woman negotiate the space now marked by his belated self-awareness. Stransom ‘rises to his feet with a movement that made him turn, supporting himself by the back of a bench’ (484); the woman, who this time he looks at ‘till she seemed to become aware he had noticed her’, comes ‘straight to him with both hands out’ (484); he holds ‘her hands and they steadied and quickened him’; she ‘disengage[s] one of her hands and passe[s] an arm round him better, to help him sink into a seat’; he ‘let[s] himself go’ but not, in this instance, to lose himself; rather to find himself supported by the body of an other, ‘resting on her; he dropped upon the bench, and she fell on her knees beside him with his arm on her shoulder’ (485). The piling up of what almost amount to stage directions signals a new awareness both in Stransom’s devotions and in James’s style to the embodied experience demanded by the ‘material act’ of commemoration. At the same time, the scene’s resolution of Stransom’s queerly resonant shame through the choreographed movements of man and woman—held in their triangulated ‘clandestine connection’ to Acton Hague’s dead presence—bespeaks the tale’s self-conscious sense of how desires (to hold, to mourn, to remember) always mediate the subject’s experience of embodiment. James’s climax ambiguously balances Stransom’s experience of the altar as a space of spectral vocality and visionary transcendence against the narrative’s attention to the more mundane actuality of his quietly mobilized body. Stransom’s (and James’s) altars—spiritual and material—offer, then, space for a complicated reflection on the nature of commemorative style, on the remembering subject’s (and commemorative text’s) necessary yet contingent engagement with both their own bodies and the bodies of others. Where I began this article by tracing a critical genealogy that has tended to empty out the bodies of James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ even as it held the tale up as exemplary of the Jamesian outlook and method, I turn now to an alternative set of responses. François Truffaut’s film adaptation of this tale (and other stories by James) in La Chambre verte (1978) unfolds its own meditation on film’s capacity for remembrance and on the image’s framing of the remembered body (including in the memorable final scene a framed photo of Henry James’s body). More recently, the title of Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies (2010) announces her novel’s corporeal project, resituating the transatlantic plot of James’s The Ambassadors against the plight of Jewish refugees in post-World War Two Europe. James’s altar-trope returns, here, as a troubling commemorative tie between the desiring bodies of Ozick’s American characters and the traumatized ‘foreign bodies’ of European Jews. In quite different ways, Truffaut’s film and Ozick’s novel ask us to re-frame and re-member James’s tale, and his corpus, with an awareness of their complicated corporeal possibilities. IN THE FRAME: JAMES’S BODIES IN FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT’S LA CHAMBRE VERTE In his dual roles as the director of La Chambre verte and as the lead actor, playing Julien Davenne, a widower, war veteran, and obituary-writer for the failing Globe newspaper, François Truffaut offers up a compellingly elliptical commentary on the body as a site of mourning and remembrance. Truffaut’s notes in preparation of the script for La Chambre verte bear an uncanny and telling similarity to the transitional path from spiritual to material commemoration traced by both James’s notebook entries for ‘The Altar to the Dead’ and the eventual tale. Here Truffaut records the importance of Julien’s materialized rituals for the film’s effects: The inconvenient thing with James is that things are never said expressly and we cannot allow ourselves to be that vague and unclear in a film. We should clarify everything and make it more precise. We should also, by a thousand inventions, expand that which I call privileged moments […] Here, the privileged moments are the scenes of worship, the lighting of candles, the rites, the religious side à la japonaise, this is our profound reason for making the film.14Truffaut’s language hints at the film’s compellingly ambivalent attitude towards its protagonist’s ritualized practices—these moments of ‘worship’ are ‘privileged’ in the film, especially through the soundtrack’s incorporation of Maurice Jaubert’s soaring Concert flamand, conspicuous camera movement, and atmospheric lighting, but for whom? For David Van Leer, such moments suggest a ‘tonal miscalculation’ and a ‘slight lack of sympathy with’ the film’s ‘Jamesian source’.15 The film fails, according to Van Leer, to question ‘the appropriateness of the protagonist’s preoccupation with death, and it stages the altar scenes with affection, even reverence’.16 Françoise Zamour, who identifies Julien’s tending of his altar as a symbol for ‘devotion to cinema’, claims that the film ‘celebrates, in a ceremonious way, exile from life and the renunciation of desire and love’.17 But such accounts miss the supple quality of James’s story—both sympathetic and critical in its handling of Stransom’s egotistical renunciations—and the extent to which Truffaut’s film qualifies its interest in Julien; indeed, recalling the corporeal lessons of James’s story, it is through a series of scenes concerned with bodily representation and replication and through the camera’s equivocal framing of Julien’s own mourning body that the film complicates the idea of reverence. In the narrative details of La Chambre verte, Truffaut enacts something broader than a mere adaptation and modernization of ‘The Altar of the Dead’. Through the incorporation of material from two others tales, the film enacts a larger commemoration of James’s interest in the almost spectral absences that sometimes structure relationships between his characters. Like John Marcher when he encounters May Bartram at the start of ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, Julien hopelessly bungles his efforts to recall an earlier meeting with Cécelia Mandel (Truffaut gives the unnamed woman of James’s tale both a name and a job in the auctioning house handling the estate of the family of Julien’s late wife, Julie). And like the main characters in James’s 1896 tale ‘The Way It Came’ (later titled ‘The Friends of the Friends’), the intimacy of Julien and Cécelia is built on their shared experiences of having seen loved ones appear like ghosts on the day they died (Cécelia sees her father, Julien his wife). This patchwork of narrative fragments positions Truffaut’s film as a wider meditation on a Jamesian thematics of absence—as in the story of George Stransom, James’s characters frequently move between erasure of the living bodies before them and emphatic realizations of others in their absence. It is no accident, then, that the film’s ambivalent approach to Julien’s fixation on bodies most present in their absence also surfaces in its most explicit homage to its source: when Truffaut’s Julien pauses before a photograph of Henry James hung amongst the various framed images that adorn his altar (many of which include personal and professional acquaintances of Truffaut), he declares that despite the fact that he did not know him well this man taught him ‘the importance of respect for the dead’. If, as I am suggesting, Truffaut’s film queries Julien’s propensity for abstracting the lives and deaths of others, then the camera’s pause over James’s framed image (as Julien and Cécelia walk off-screen) also brings a critical lens to Julien’s ascription of that propensity to James; the camera’s stationary attention to the image (like the frame in which Julien has placed the photograph) captures Julien’s reverence for the Master even as its lingering gaze, in the absence of the film’s characters, demands a recognition of our own necessary, embodied presence as the film’s, and the altar’s, audience. The pause before James’s portrait highlights the film’s sustained and self-referential interest in the relationship between the camera’s gaze and the framed body—the placement of portraits as supplements to Julien’s votive arrangements (unlike Stransom’s imageless altar) points to Truffaut’s interest in the Jamesian altar as a more specifically visual, proto-filmic figure. Early in La Chambre verte, the camera aligns us with Julien and his deaf son, George, who operates a slide-projector as they gaze in awe at black-and-white images of dead (and, in one instance, decapitated) soldiers and battle scenes from World War One. As perhaps an indication of how Julien’s vision freezes the body rather than locating it as subject to movement and change, the images are projected onto the reverse-side of an educational poster concerning the metamorphosis of insects entitled ‘La Mue chez les anthropodes’. In place of such animalized corporeal progression, the scene, instead, attends to the intertangling of human movement and machine as, like the pair in the darkened room, we see the images sliding into the projector until they fill the frame and then, as the scene progresses, we follow cuts between shots of George handling the slides and reverse shots of the slide’s projected image—on one hand, we are invited to share Julien’s scopophilic appraisal of the images as ‘very beautiful’ and to feel our participation in that gaze as a strange kind of intimacy (between father and son, between director and audience); on the other, the scene’s careful attention to George’s hands (both arranging the slides and communicating, excitedly, with Julien by sign language) suggest both Julien’s and cinema’s capacity to erase the living bodies that condition our desire for the image. This scene prepares the audience for our first entry into Julien’s initial altar in the titular ‘green room’, a shrine in his home in which two adjoining walls of photographs and paintings of Julie form the focus of Julien’s devotions. As Julien spends a night in contemplation in the room, the camera communicates his meditative presence, and once more aligns us with Julien’s perspective, by slowly panning and tilting across the various images, one by one, while we hear, for the first time, a lush crescendo of strings from Jaubert’s Concert flamand. At the last of these portraits, the camera tracks in until Julie’s profile fills the screen and the image dissolves into a second profile shot, almost identical, that, as the camera tracks back, is revealed to be part of her headstone. This final transition suggests Julien’s desire for a vision transcending the bodily removal of the dead from the living—the dissolve bridges the house and the graveyard just as the grave’s image, to which Julien talks, bridges the distance between mourner and mourned. But the dissolve, as a filmic device connecting two scenes in which a character occupies two separate physical spaces, also cannot help but underscore the difference between Julien’s gaze and our own stationary participation in that gaze in the confined space of a theatre. Philip Watts, building on Ludovic Cortade, notes how Truffaut’s career-long investment in the filming of still photographs (for instance, the famous freeze-frame that concludes Les 400 coups [1959]) invites a ‘a desire […] to suspend his films, that is both to stop them in their tracks and to leave open the possibility of further fictions’.18 In La Chambre verte, however, the suspended pleasure of the photograph—both for Julien and for the viewer—sits in uneasy tension with the film’s treatment of a twinned site of bodily replication and mourning: sculpture. Throughout the film, Truffaut interlaces sequences illustrating Julien’s devotion to framed images with scenes involving unsatisfactory efforts to memorialize his late wife through the sculpted body. So the scene of our first entry into the ‘green room’, involves Julien taking a recently acquired ring belonging to his wife and placing it on a plaster cast of her hand sitting atop a table before the wall of portraits. When a fire later causes damage to the room, Julien vows, at Julie’s grave, to find a way of having her closer; in the succeeding scene, Julien is shown visiting a backstreet workshop late at night, where the proprietor reveals, from behind a curtain, a life-size clay mannequin of his late wife. Julien is distressed by the mannequin’s failure to capture her life and he pays for it, demanding that the perplexed sculptor destroy the work on the spot. The scene of the mannequin’s destruction then echoes in a later scene in which George sneaks out of the house at night, after having been sent to bed for dropping the prized World War One slides, and throws a rock through a shop window in order to pilfer one of several busts of women’s heads displaying jewellery. The intertwined motifs of portraiture and sculpture suggest that, for Julien, the materialized form of sculpture proves insufficiently elegiac in comparison with the projected or illuminated (that is, cinematic) image—only amongst the candlelit portraits that adorn his converted chapel can the dead, as he declares to Cécelia in the film’s final scene, be ‘more present than ever’. But the film’s careful juxtapositions also imply that Julien’s images cannot extract themselves from the dissatisfactions, the lifelessness and substitution, he associates with sculpture. If the various severed replications of the female body evoke the fragmentary nature of commemoration and the difficulty of capturing lost presence, they also point to Julien’s commemorative acts as severing/severe, a decapitation of the mind from the world of the living body. Annette Insdorf reads George’s quest for his mother’s materialized image in the form of the shop-window bust as ‘an extension of Julien’s own morbid possessiveness in the green room.’19 The fact that George’s breaking of the reflective glass display case comes in response to Julien’s punishment for the breaking of the treasured slide positions Julien’s devotion to the image or the screen—both the framed slide and the replicated body—as, at once, fragile and violent in its effects. Matthew E. Jordan finds in Truffaut’s film an exploration of commemoration, of its uneasy movements between mourning, nostalgia, and melancholia: ‘How can we locate the line,’ Jordan asks, ‘between necessary remembrance and excessive fixation, between a healthy piety that honors the past and a pathological inability to mourn that poisons the present?’20 That line, I would argue, is traced by the camera’s tracking and framing of Julien’s and Cécelia’s movements inside the chapel, an echo of the carefully choreographed conclusion to James’s tale. Recalling the scene of Julien’s night in the green room, Julien’s introduction of Cécelia to his private chapel seems to invite, at first, our reverence for his dramatic arrangement of the chapel. Explicitly mimicking his actual directorial role by making final adjustments to the chapel’s mise-en-scène before allowing Cécelia (and the camera) to take in the space, Truffaut’s Julien literally leads us toward the altar—as Cécelia enters the church, we cut to a shot from the perspective of either her or Julien (or both) slowly walking, hand in hand, toward the centre-aisle until the camera rests, symmetrically framing the ‘forêt de flames’ (the ambiguity of perspective suggests that Cécelia, and the viewer, share Julien’s vision at this moment). Jaubert’s score re-enters at the moment of Cécelia’s introduction to the space and, at the instant at which the camera tracks left beyond a silhouetted pillar obscuring the view of the altar, a cymbal in the soundtrack gives us the beginning of the dramatic dirge-like march that will accompany the couple’s and the camera’s movement toward the altar. The final frame of this climactic sequence underscores our apparent alignment with Julien’s project and our presumed appreciation of its effects: the sanctuary is closed in by a set of ornamental, wrought-iron gates and the camera moves toward a final resting position in which Julie’s portrait, at the centre of the altar, is perfectly framed by the curlicue ornamentation of the gate which remains out of focus in the shot’s middle-ground. At this point, Truffaut’s direction appears to be of a piece with his character’s efforts to do justice to his quasi-religious arrangements. But just as James’s story trains our attention on the embodied movements of the characters through the chapel’s overdetermined, figurative space, so too does Truffaut’s film ask us to consider Cécelia’s presence as a challenge to both Julien’s and the film’s appeals to visual order. After Julien has led Cécelia into the enclosed space and provided her with a tour of the various photos along the walls of the sanctuary, he asks if he can ask her something and, in preparation, closes the gates once more; this action ensures that, with the camera positioned outside the sanctuary, the couple this time is visually contained by the gate’s ornamentation, their heads tightly framed by its curlicues. Truffaut’s blocking of the actors in this sequence underlines the constrictive tone of Julien’s request for Cécelia to join him as the temple’s guardian, ‘to share its rights and duties’ and to add her dead to its collection of flames. When Cécelia moves forward out of this visual arrangement toward the gate, allowing the gate’s lines to cut through and crisscross her image, she voices an alternative vision that challenges Julien’s understanding of the altar-space: ‘I wish that all these flames would mingle to form a mountain of light, one big luminosity’. The tightly separated framing of Julien and Cécelia at the start of this conversation is mapped onto Julien’s proprietorial vision of what he calls his dead, each one singled out and signified through their appropriate candle. In contrast, Cécelia’s vision asks for a broader human sympathy and, visually, the mingling of subject and frame produced by her placement against the gate locates that sympathy in an awareness of the body as more disordered and interconnected than Julien seems capable of seeing. Where Julien’s directorial gaze inducted us into the space of the sanctuary, Cécelia’s movements and the camera’s alternative framing of her body bring this scene to its fade-out, asking us to temper our involvement in Julien’s art. Just as Truffaut’s sanctuary scene juxtaposes alternative gazes and worldviews, James’s fiction consistently plays with the intersections and differences of voir and savoir, of corporeal and figurative seeing. In ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, for instance, John Marcher, on his penultimate trip to May Bartram’s grave, finds her inscribed names have become ‘a pair of eyes that didn’t know him’; when he returns in the tale’s final scene, the eyes of another visitor to the graveyard name ‘to him’ what he has ‘utterly, insanely missed’, the chance to live proffered by May, and he buries his ‘darkened’ eyes and their new knowledge, flinging himself on the tomb.21 In La Chambre verte, an exposure of Julien’s limited capacity to see the lives of others and the camera’s complicated complicity with this worldview punctuates the scene in which he realizes the identity of the death behind Cécelia’s grief. Visiting her home for the first time, Julien discovers he cannot tell Cécelia the colour of her eyes when she covers them to test him: ‘you see’, she wryly notes. When Julien then wanders into an adjoining room while Cécelia tends to a piano student, the camera takes up his increasingly bewildered gaze as it scans across the various objects related to Paul Massigny that decorate this space—Massigny is the film’s version of Acton Hague from ‘The Altar of the Dead’. Where Julien cannot ‘see’ Cécelia in both an intimate and explicitly corporeal way, the camera’s implicit recall of our devotional scanning across the images of the green room underlines just what it is that Julien can see—the shape of an altar. Julien’s hurried flight from the room and down the stairs from the apartment signal how this challenge to his vision will be tied to a sudden physical descent but it is, tellingly, a shot of Cécelia watching that descent from above that brings this scene to its close. In somewhat melodramatic and unsatisfactory fashion, La Chambre verte nods to the corporeal concerns of James’s ‘Altar of the Dead’ through the physical deterioration of Julien: in the film’s final fifteen minutes, Truffaut, the actor, plays up his metamorphosis into sweaty, unshaven, hyperventilating madness. But, as director, Truffaut also orchestrates an understated visual approach to the film’s final rapprochement between Julien and Cécelia, an approach that manages to commemorate something of the original tale’s intimate choreography. In an earlier scene in which Julien first discovers the abandoned church that will become home to his altar, he breaks a window and peers through to the disordered interior—as with the film’s other altar-scenes, the camera takes up Julien’s perspective and scans across the space right to left, up and down, pausing briefly to note one of the few standing remnants of its devotional past: a small sculpted rendition of the pietà. That image of physical holding, so important to the end of James’s tale (and to the ends of other tales such as ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and ‘The Jolly Corner’), also resurfaces at the conclusion to Truffaut’s film but with revealing differences. After Julien drops his cane and collapses to the ground, the final conversation between Julien and Cécelia takes place in a tightly framed two-shot, almost in profile; when Julien, in his final words, declares that he knows that nothing has happened between them and sinks into her lap, the camera watches this from behind Cécelia’s right shoulder so that we mostly see her head bowed over him (as Jaubert’s haunting score starts up once more), and our sole glimpse of the pietà comes after she lifts her head and, in a separate close-up, pulls her hands from his head. Just as Julien’s path through the film suggests both the pleasures and the risks of a perspective (and a cinema) devoted to the sculpted body and the framed image, Truffaut’s quiet handling of this emblematically ‘privileged moment’—its focus on the intimate physical details of the bowed head and the withdrawing hand rather than the implicit tableau—encapsulates the film’s restrained tribute to the doubled devotions of its literary source. Like James’s tale, Truffaut’s film, in its approach to the sanctuary’s moodily lit mise-en-scène, recognizes the attractions of an artfully composed altar but it allows the movements of a body in this space—a living altar, we might say—to break up and revise that framing vision. ‘SOME SORT OF ALTAR’: RE-MEMBERING OTHERS IN CYNTHIA OZICK’S FOREIGN BODIES I conclude by turning to a more recent and likely to be overlooked tribute to the commemorative power of James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ in Cynthia Ozick’s 2010 novel, Foreign Bodies. Ozick’s novel has, naturally, received more attention for its explicit rewriting of James’s The Ambassadors—Ozick transforms the story of Lewis Lambert Strether’s complicated mission to return Chad Newsome from the clutches of the widowed Madame de Vionnet to his career in New England into the tale of Bea Nightingale (nee Nachtigall), a high-school English teacher, and her enlistment by her wealthy brother, Marvin, to rescue his son Julian, and then his daughter Iris, from their relationship with a Romanian-Jewish refugee and concentration camp survivor, Lili, in the aftermath of the Second World War. As in Truffault’s film, the shadow of war extends and queries the limits of James’s commemorative aesthetics, but in this instance, the specific antisemitic resonance of the Shoah and its aftermath allows Ozick to explore, in Merle A. Williams’s words, ‘what Henry James didn’t know (or thoroughly understand), what he could never have known about a cosmopolitan space distorted by devastating violence’.22 For John Carlos Rowe, Ozick’s adaptation, in its attention to the refugees of World War Two, ‘identifies the historical point at which James’s cosmopolitanism failed to achieve a genuine global vision’, but it can only present this argument in the ‘didactic’ form of a ‘melodrama about the impact of globalization on US-Americans’. Ozick’s novel, Rowe argues, relies on an easy division between ‘characters who experience postwar Europe’ and are ‘changed by their knowledge’ (such as Bea, Iris, and Julian) and ‘characters who remain stubbornly insulated in the US’ and are ‘destroyed by their provincialism’ (such as Julian’s parents, Marvin and Margaret).23 But Ozick’s novel is more equivocal, less didactic than Rowe suggests—the value of the changes experienced by Bea, Iris, and Julian are not so clear at the novel’s end and, indeed, the ambiguity of their fates, as ‘foreign bodies’ returned to their homeland, has much to do with Ozick’s entwined interest in Jamesian moments of commemoration and corporeality; indeed, Ozick’s novel imagines James’s corpus as a kind of preparation for the challenges posed to representation by the ‘foreign’, abject body. Beyond Ozick’s reworking of The Ambassadors, Foreign Bodies also evokes James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ through its treatment of the central character, Bea’s ignorant yet reverent relationship to the ‘protected territory’ of her former husband, Leo Coopersmith’s abandoned grand piano. Bea, her niece Iris notes, treats the ‘enormous grand piano […] like it’s some sort of altar—’.24 Ozick’s nod to James’s parable of commemoration is more oblique than the tributes of either Oates or Truffaut, for Bea’s ‘altar’ does not explicitly remember the dead; rather it lingers, ‘too roaringly huge in’ the ‘modest space’ of her apartment as a ghostly remnant of her former marriage. Nevertheless, Ozick allows this altarpiece to function as a symbolic echo of Stransom’s candles—like his service to the altar to ‘the Dead’, Bea’s ‘reverence’ for Leo’s piano is transformed by the arrival of an other’s, specifically Iris’s, presence; Iris, the first of the novel’s titular ‘calamitous foreign bod[ies]’, ‘finger[s] a key’, leaving a lasting impression that will, in winding ways, propel her to Paris and to her eventual, provisional excision of the piano and Leo’s spectral presence. Through the overspilling presence of the piano, ‘a stupendous lion in a cramped cage’ (20), Ozick ingeniously establishes a dialogue between the ‘ambassadorial traffic’ (18) of her ur-text (what Julie Rivkin has identified as The Ambassadors’ deconstructive ‘logic of delegation’) and the uncontainable loops of metaphor and metonymy that structure ‘The Altar of the Dead’.25 Leo’s lingering shadow in the leonine piano forms a counterpoint with the effects produced by Bea’s overbearing, brash brother, Marvin, the businessman, whose distant presence is felt in the brains of his children, Julian and Iris, and in the judgment of his chosen ambassador to their Parisian hideaway, Bea. Just as the materialization of Stransom’s altar enables James’s tale’s wary tracing of embodiment’s demands, Leo’s piano becomes the figure through which Ozick’s novel’s plays out its guiding concern with ‘bodies’ familial and yet invasively foreign, bodies intensely and yet evasively interconnected. Where James’s story traces a movement from Stransom’s private, spiritual devotions to a relocated, public, and subsequently, contested embodiment of that devotion, Ozick’s novel gives us the transformation and then attempted ‘purge’ or ‘exorcism’ of an altar erected in the home. The difference in plot conceals, however, the extent to which Ozick’s altar-figure speaks back to, and expands on, the structures of intersubjective experience traced by James’s tale. At the story’s outset, the piano stands as a sign of both Bea’s almost forgotten sexuality (not unlike Stransom’s or Strether’s penchants for self-erasure) and her ‘musical blankness’ (not unlike Henry James’s own unmusicality)—she has a ‘deaf chromosome, a missing vertebra’ (25), a ‘spinal absence’ that, in Leo’s mind, had allowed him to keep himself and his music ‘immaculate’, uncontaminated (26).26 For Bea, their brief young marriage intertwined Leo’s music with their sex life, so that the piano ‘so hotly close to the bed, fevered it with unpredictable paroxysms’: the piano was ‘insidious, it swam in her blood and then coughed her out as foreign matter’ (37). In the aftermath, Bea ‘worship[s]’ the piano ‘partly out of ignorance, partly out of reverence’. But Iris’s arrival, ‘out of the ether […] this calamitous foreign body’, and her ‘violating’ touch transforms the silent instrument, bringing out a ‘single sound, lone, unattached, desolate. Even chaste’ (26). Iris’s touch sets off a chain of touchings, of unknowing performances, that structure the novel’s ambassadorial exchanges. Bea impulsively follows Iris to Paris, encounters Julian and his wife, Lili, and returns from these ‘witnessed shiftings’ transformed. Paris is the ‘hinge’ that propels her ‘to get rid of the grand’ (136). But Paris also returns her to Leo when she learns that Marvin has visited him, looking for some inside path for Julian into Hollywood—Bea visits Leo and in a moment of seeming unconscious genius she strikes a sublime chord on his new piano, a Blüthner: ‘It was’, Leo realizes, ‘the opening bars of the symphony he was yet to write’ (115). Both Bea’s removal of the piano and her playing of the chord advance the novel’s vision of bodies as ineluctably enmeshed. Despite her removal of the piano-altar, and then her removal of its shadow, its ‘bleeding silhouette’ (165) in the carpet, Bea cannot successfully purge Leo’s presence. When, in the novel’s conclusion, Leo sends Bea the score for his newly minted Nightingale symphony, he envisages it as a bodily revenge on the ‘unman[ning]’ effects of her lingering touch on the Blüthner: it is a script viscerally his own—‘torn out of his lungs, out of his testes’—yet translated, he feels, into a ‘sublime’ language beyond her reach (239). But Ozick enigmatically leaves us with Bea’s unmusical appreciation of ‘the grand restored’, of the score’s ‘inky tattoos’, as the scene of her envisaged victory. Like the scene of awakened embodiment that closes off James’s ‘Altar of the Dead’, Ozick’s novel lingers, at its end, on Bea’s bodily awakening to this irremovable altar, on her realization of her capacity to ‘change the lives of others’: ‘there was an excitement in it, a glorious wilderness under the breastbone, a metronome charging in her temples […] Her heart in its cage a foreign body—it had no business stirring up this frenzy, this delirium of knowing and unknowing’ (254). Of course, the life that Bea most tellingly changes, the ‘foreign body’ about whom she remains necessarily ‘unknowing’, is that of her new niece-in-law, Lili. And it is in the tight parallels that Ozick’s novel draws between the piano’s intertwinements and the ‘densely entangled’ (225) bodies of Julian and Lili that Ozick’s novel sounds its clearest notes of commemoration, notes that challenge the limits of James’s transatlantic manners even as they resolve in the most ambiguously Jamesian of cadences. In lateral, perhaps disconcerting ways, the piano does become a kind of commemoration of the Dead, the unspeakable Dead of the Shoah, by virtue of the figurative connections the novel insists on between its discordant lingering and the changes wrought on Bea’s family by the introduction of Lili and her trauma. The connections are often made through jarring juxtapositions of the novel’s short chapters—Leo’s attempt to trace Bea’s ‘lost chord’, the sound that inflames his ‘tender secret testicles’, and that resonates as ‘a hideous hollow, like an anus’ and that awaits in the keys ‘the operative combination’, comes on the heels of the disturbing scene in which Lili, having aborted a foetus, ‘open[s] her body’ to Julian: ‘dry-eyed, dry-mouthed, surprised and unsurprised, hurting in the place where they had combed her that day with an iron comb’ (178). Soon after that Iris, like Leo, is also tracing the meaning of lingering sounds, those uncannily interchangeable cries left, like ghosts, by ‘her brother’s lovemaking’ and ‘his wife’s horrific dreams’ in their previous residence (190). It is in this context that Bea’s exorcism of the grand piano functions as an uncomfortable double to Lili’s handling of her trauma, her ‘black purge, like a vomiting’ (104) of the memory of her husband’s and child’s deaths. And so Ozick explicitly entwines Bea’s exorcism of Leo with her efforts to excise Marvin and his imperious demands from Julian’s life. Marvin leaves Bea with an extravagant cheque for the married couple, designed to keep Julian and Lili from returning stateside and spoiling his vision of the Nachtigalls’ successful assimilation to white America. In a scene evoking other Jamesian burnings (in ‘The Aspern Papers’ and The Wings of the Dove), Bea takes the cheque from inside Leo’s copy of Mann’s Doctor Faustus (where she had unconsciously placed it) and uses it as the tool for two purgings—she will read the random passage marked in Doctor Faustus by the cheque as a sign of Leo’s fate and she will burn the cheque: ‘The exorcism of Leo Coppersmith. The exorcism of the ashes in the sink. Merged in a single night’ (214). If Bea’s repeated purgings of Leo and his grand are to be read as her revenge on the instrument that rendered her own body ‘as foreign matter’, it becomes through this path a clearing of space to welcome the traumatized ‘foreign body’ that is Lili—this becomes quite literal when Bea has them stay in her apartment, in the absence of the cheque, en route to new lives in Texas: the air, she feels, is ‘swollen with her nephew and his wife. Their farness and their nearness filled every corner’ (226). Indeed, Julian’s transformation by Lili’s mutilated hand positions him as a kind of replacement, for Bea, of Leo and his unrealized aspirations; by the end of this same chapter, Bea’s focalized voice appears to read Julian’s new atheist existentialism (he wants to ‘think about’ why ‘there isn’t any God’ [226]) and the likely ‘fad[ing]’ of his ‘infatuation’ with Lili as of a piece with Leo’s musical silence: ‘The symphony that never was, the God that never is’ (231). But the grand piano as a persistent site of unknowing worship haunts and reminds us of the inadequacies of Bea’s (and the narrator’s) analogy, of the imbalances that structure these intertwined narratives of bodies made foreign, expendable and, perhaps, assimilable in startlingly different contexts. Just as James insistently returns in his transatlantic fiction to the suppressed violence wrought by European values and mores, Ozick locates in Lili’s foreignness, the unassimilable otherness of her abject body, an occluded and compromising silence that cannot be disentangled from Leo’s altar of artistic ambition. While Ozick’s novel, not unlike Oates’s short story, draws our attention to the human detritus that escaped Henry James’s commemorations of transatlantic manners and their ‘ambassadorial traffic’, it also depends on a quintessentially Jamesian turn; the novel’s figuratively detached incorporation of Lili’s otherness plays out a familiar structure whereby James’s spectators involve themselves in and remove themselves from characters at the margins (like Stransom’s woman who lacks even a name). Much as Stransom’s altar becomes a torn symbol—both a privileged, disembodied style of devotion and a necessarily material scene of mourning—Leo’s piano comes to suggest the interconnectedness of Ozick’s various ‘foreign bodies’ even as it continues to evoke a privileged and abstracted form of art, removed from the very violence it might seem to channel; this is, of course, not dissimilar from the tension we experience at the end of La Chambre verte when swelling music also invites us both to adopt and to distance ourselves from the abstracting, commemorative beauty of Julien’s altar. Carole Kessner has identified Ozick’s description, in the opening pages, of the ‘ineradicable’ effects of the war on Paris’s refugees as ‘the essence of her book’: ‘They were the Europeans whom Europe had set upon; they wore Europe’s tattoo’ (3).27 But that description echoes, uncannily and not entirely comfortably, in the novel’s final scene describing Bea’s response to Leo’s vengefully gifted score: ‘here was the grand restored […], its stain on her thrown-out carpet returned in these inky tattoos, her devil’s exorcism reversed’ (254). In this way, peculiarly, Leo’s parting ‘gift’—with its ‘fragile fishtails’, its marks resembling an ‘ampersand’s belly’ and a ‘swollen comma’—intones a fitting final commemorative nod to the ambiguous force of the Jamesian altar, yoking the corporeal and the textual, animating a ‘delirium of knowing and unknowing’ (254). Footnotes 1 Edmund Gosse, ‘James’s Funeral’, Times [4 March 1916]. 2 Anthony Lane, ‘A Day for Henry James’, New Yorker [4 March 2016] <http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-day-for-henry-james> accessed 1 October 2017. 3 Henry James, Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other European Writers, The Prefaces to the New York Edition, ed. Mark Wilson and Leon Edel (New York, NY, 1984), 1249. 4 H. G. Wells, Boon, the Mind of the Race, the Wild Asses of the Devil,andthe Last Trump (London, 1915), 106–7. 5 Rebecca West, Henry James (London, 1916), 86, 115. 6 Joyce Carol Oates, Wild Nights! (New York, NY, 2008), 165. All future references to this text will be provided in parentheses in the body of the text. 7 Joyce Carol Oates, ‘Oates Details Writers’ Last Days in Wild Nights’, transcript of interview with Liane Hansen <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89979929> accessed 15 September 2017. 8 Lucy Biederman, ‘After the Year of Henry James: The Undermining of Authority in Short Fictions by Cynthia Ozick and Joyce Carol Oates’, Henry James Review, 38 (2017), 87–100, 95. 9 Biederman, ‘After the Year’, 97. 10 Henry James, ‘The Altar of the Dead’, Complete Stories of Henry James, 1892–1898 (New York, NY, 1996), 270–1. All future references to this text will be provided in parentheses in the body of the text. 11 Sigi Jöttkandt, Acting Beautifully: Henry James and the Ethical Aesthetic (New York, NY, 2005), 124. 12 The Complete Notebooks of Henry James, ed. Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers (Oxford, 1987), 98. 13 The Complete Notebooks, 99. 14 François Truffaut, Correspondance, Recuillies par Gilles Jacob et Claude de Givray (Renens, 1988), 447, quoted and translated in Matthew Jordan, ‘Memory, Nostalgia and Melancholia: Unlocking the Secrets of Truffaut’s The Green Room’, in Susan Griffin (ed.), Henry James Goes to the Movies (Lexington, 2002), 76–98. 15 David Van Leer, ‘Frank and Jim Go Boating: Henry James and the French New Wave’, in John Bradley (ed.), Henry James on Stage and Screen (New York, NY, 2000), 56–71. 16 Van Leer, ‘Frank and Jim Go Boating’, 89. 17 Françoise Zamour, ‘La Chambre verte and the Beating Heart of Truffaut’s Oeuvre’, in Dudley Andrew and Anne Gillain (eds), A Companion to François Truffaut (Malden, 2013), 561–70. 18 Philip Watts, ‘The Elegist: François Truffaut inside La Chambre verte’, in Andrew and Gillain (eds), A Companion to François Truffaut, 546–60. 19 Annette Insdorf, François Truffaut (Cambridge, 1994), 221–2. 20 Jordan, ‘Memory, Nostalgia, and Melancholy’, 77. 21 Henry James, ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, Complete Stories of Henry James, 1898–1910 (New York, NY, 1999), 535, 539, 541. 22 Merle A. Williams, ‘Tracing the Foreign and the Other: From The Ambassadors to Foreign Bodies’, unpublished conference paper delivered at Commemorating Henry James/Commemoration in Henry James, Brandeis University, 9 June 2016. 23 John Carlos Rowe, ‘Literary Adaptations of James in Roth’s, Ozick’s, and Franzen’s Work’, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 16 (2014), 5: https://doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.2414. 24 Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies (Boston, MA, and New York, NY, 2010), 241. All future references to this text will be provided in parentheses in the body of the text. 25 Julie Rivkin, False Positions: The Representational Logics of Henry James’s Fictions (Stanford, CA, 1996), 57–81. 26 James once described himself as ‘unlyrical, unmusical, unrhythmical, unmanageable’. Henry James Letters, ed. Leon Edel, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1980), 1. 230. 27 Carole Kessner, ‘Foreign Bodies: A Pentimento’, Studies in American Jewish Literature, 31 (2012), 200–15, 213. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Review of English Studies Oxford University Press

At the Jamesian Altar: Commemorating Henry James’s Corpus

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved
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0034-6551
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1471-6968
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Abstract

Abstract In the wake of the 2016 centenary of Henry James’s death, this article examines the idea of commemoration both in James’s fiction and in later fictional returns to James’s work. Arguing that Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘The Master at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, 1914–1916’ (2008) misreads the bodily concerns of James’s work, I return to James's short story ‘The Altar of the Dead’ (1895), noting how critics have tended to miss that tale’s critique of abstraction and its perhaps surprising attention to the material and corporeal quality of commemoration. James’s tale is, by this reading, a resonant meditation on what it means to remember the bodies of others. In contrast with Oates’s tale, François Truffaut’s film La Chambre verte (1978) and Cynthia Ozick’s novel Foreign Bodies (2010) stand as fitting tributes to this neglected Jamesian strand: both these texts take up James’s figuration of the altar to explore both commemorations of James and the ethical demands posed by thinking of commemoration as a corporeal engagement with otherness. In a letter to the Times dated 3 March 1916, Edmund Gosse offered a brief account of the literary atmosphere of that afternoon’s memorial service for his dear friend Henry James: The group of friends, a large company, must have included several whose thoughts went back, like mine, to the mysterious and poignant story which Henry James contrived to publish […] Some of us must have thought that ‘The Altar of the Dead’ of our wonderful friend had been found in the beautiful old dim church of All Saints which stood almost at his door, and into which, he too burdened with unutterable regrets, often silently slipped. As we stood round the shell of that incomparable brain, of that noble and tender heart, it flashed across me that to generations yet unawakened to a knowledge of his value the Old Chelsea Church must for ever be the Altar of the Dead.1Gosse’s touching eulogy asks its audience to imagine James, now only present in ‘the shell’ of his body, as initiating, in advance, a ‘mysterious and poignant’ commemoration of the self; ‘The Altar of the Dead’—its story of George Stransom and his erection of a private altar of candles for ‘his Dead’—seems to write into being the church’s capacity both to remember the ‘unutterable’ burdens of the writer’s silent slippages and to reserve a space for future readers’ awakenings to the author’s value. One hundred years later, one could feel that same uncannily proleptic, if elliptical, force at play in the various events and conferences organized around Jamesian ‘commemoration’, ‘memory’, ‘heritage and transmission’. In a review article reflecting on a centenary service in Chelsea’s Old Church, 3 March 2016, Anthony Lane sounded the strains of James’s tale when he reported on the ‘extraordinary passage’ from his notebooks concerning his efforts to bring the James brothers together around his sister, Alice’s grave: ‘The Dead we cannot have, but I feel as if they would be, will be, a little less dead if we three living can only for a week or two close in together here’; the service, Lane suggests, left one with the ‘disconcerting impression’ that art, as James had once written, ‘makes life’, and that James was ‘a little less dead’.2 As James himself noted, in his Preface to the New York Edition of ‘The Altar of the Dead’, the ‘sense of the state of the dead is but part of the sense of the state of the living’.3 My aim, in this article, is to trace how various authors have taken up the Jamesian figure of an altar for ‘the Dead’ as a sign of their own commemorative engagement with Henry James and his ‘sense of the state of the dead’. While altars tend to call up an idea of an abstracted, spiritualized worship (evoking the kind of discipleship of which sympathetic critics of James have often been accused), I am particularly interested in how the altar, for James and for writers responding to James, becomes a site for exploring the material and corporeal qualities of commemoration; I will argue, perhaps surprisingly, that the body is less of a ‘shell’ and more of a substantial presence in James’s proleptic writing of remembrance. Like ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ and The Golden Bowl, the titular figure of ‘The Altar of the Dead’ has proven irresistible to critics looking for a key to explain the particular effects of James’s fiction; indeed, the story has been especially attractive as a figure for complaints about the excesses of James’s late style. In Boon, H. G. Wells infamously parodied the exemplary subject of the Henry James novel as being ‘like a church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an egg-shell, a bit of string… Like his “Altar of the Dead”, with nothing to the dead at all’.4 Rebecca West, despite her admiration for the tale, and despite viewing James’s oeuvre (like Velasquez’s) as an ‘altar raised to beauty’, finds James, in his late writing, no longer lifting his ‘crystal bowl’ with ‘a priest-like gesture’; instead, he holds ‘it on his knees as a treasured piece of bric-à-brac and tosse[s] into it, with an increasing carelessness, any sort of object—a jewel, a rose, a bit of string, a visiting-card—confident that the surrounding golden glow would lend it beauty’.5 For West, as for Wells, the dissatisfactions of late James are embodied in this image of a mismatched style, a radiant and ‘reverent’ approach to mundane matter: that recurrent ‘bit of string’—cut off, unwound, resistant to interpretation—threads a sullying path across their critical altars. In a more contemporary variation on this critique, an image of enshrined detritus surfaces with a difference in Joyce Carol Oates’s short story ‘The Master at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, 1914–1916’ (the story appears in Wild Nights!, a 2008 collection of tales about the final days of assorted American writers). Here, Oates offers up a fantastical account of James’s actual visits to wounded soldiers in which ‘the Master’ sets up in ‘secret, in [his] bedchamber, in a closet with a lock’ a makeshift altar to the dying youths: on a beautifully carved mahogany box he had placed two votive candles to illuminate what he’d come to call his ‘sacred relics’ which consisted, so far, of several handkerchiefs monogrammed HJJ, stiffened with dried blood; strips of medical gauze stained with blood and/or mucus; clumps of hair, a signet ring, a sock, several photographs (of young, smiling uniformed men taken in the happier days before they’d been shipped away to war); even a rosary of shiny black beads, left behind by a discharged soldier.6Like Wells’s and West’s critiques of late James, Oates’s fictionalized exposure of James’s wartime closet serves as something of a corrective to the Master’s rarefied style, to its distaste for the ‘raw and unformed’ (140)—the corrective makes itself felt as HJJ’s monogrammed presence succumbs not only to a stiffening of blood but also to the rhetorical force of an inventory, a paratactic piling up of objects at odds with the more recognizable hypotaxis of a Jamesian sentence. In an interview regarding the book, Oates has recalled being pulled to this particular moment in James’s life because it unveiled an aspect of the Master usually lost in his writing: amongst the soldiers, Oates claims, ‘he sort of threw off that fastidious manner and he rose to the occasion. He was just very, very human.’7 In Oates’s tale, the altar, as a symbol of all that Jamesian style sacrifices becomes a necessary escape from Ward Six, where James feels himself ‘chastised’ in his ‘strange, unsettling intimacy’ with the human, with the sight and especially the odour of the soldiers’ dying bodies: ‘in all of the Master’s lauded fiction’, Oates’s awkwardly focalized narrator muses, ‘not one individual, male or female, inhabited an actual physical body, still less a body that smelled’ (127). Where Wells’s and West’s ‘bits of string’ signify a waste of effort, a failure of selection for the expense of James’s florid prose, Oates’s ‘relics’ suggest that his style is built on precisely the suppression of such artefacts. Oates’s story turns, as Lucy Biederman argues, on a disassociation of ‘Henry James’, the ‘institution’, from James, the person and, even, the ‘stranger’.8 So in his fictionalized diary (drawn from quotations from earlier actual letters by James), Oates’s Master transmutes the disconcerting matter of his altar into cryptic entries that ‘no biographer might ever decipher’ (132). And in the path of the story James is made subject to a self-consciously perverse series of exposures of this closeted self—whether that be in his passing recollection, with a ‘thrill of exultation’, of having attacked a cat with a cudgel (123); or in the scene of his most corporeal devotion to the wounded soldier, Scudder, on his knees ‘press[ing] his yearning mouth against the stump of Scudder’s mutilated leg’ and its ‘raw wound’ (141); or in his subsequent punishment by Ward Six’s matronly overseer, spanking him with a ‘rod’ in a ‘small, overheated room’ (143). James eventually serves his penance in the story through manual labour, subjecting himself climactically to the paratactic force of cleaning the hospital’s waste: ‘garbage, clotted hairs, floating human excrement, roaches’ (147). He is rewarded with the tale’s concluding deathly dreams of him taking a ‘sea-voyage’ (151) on a leather divan tended by Scudder while, in the waking world, he makes his final contribution to the war: ‘You see’, he persuades the nurse, ‘I must “give” blood. For that is all that I can give’ (153). Oates’s various grotesqueries are playfully outrageous, serving up James’s closeted devotions to corporeal mementoes as a kind of antithesis to George Stransom’s altar of votive reminders. The story’s dream-like conclusion also, as Biederman notes, serves as a rewrite of James’s tale ‘The Middle Years’, granting to James, like the fictional ageing author Dencombe, the second chance of an intimate connection with an other but only as he ‘cedes his authority/authorship’.9 But Oates’s implicit critique of an abstracting Jamesian style performs a disservice to the very story from which it draws its closeted trope. What Oates’s story of exposure and shame (and its reanimation of earlier critiques) misses is the extent to which James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ already refuses and complicates conventional understandings of both commemoration and embodiment. This is not just to make the obvious point that the tale’s denouement ironically exposes the limitations of Stransom’s devotion to his ‘Dead’: when ‘the far-off face of Mary Antrim’, his late wife, brings ‘the force of a reproach’ to Stransom, James allows the tale to stage what feels like a didactic reminder of the protagonist’s failure to honour ‘the descent of Acton Hague’ and a final prompting for him to light ‘just one more’ candle and to welcome back the unnamed woman who once shared his altar.10 Sigi Jöttkandt reads the unnamed woman’s resistance to this resolution—‘No more, no more’, she wails—as the tale refusing Stransom’s ethical vision, his aesthetics of substitution and symmetry.11 I am also interested in the story’s stylistic resistances, but I am more concerned with how James’s tale situates its particular ethical aesthetics in its treatment of the altar as a site of material and corporeal acts. Where Wells, West, and Oates gives us a reading of the Jamesian altar as a site of rarefying transfiguration, a site almost demanding exposure of its concealed matter, James’s story in fact reveals vital concern with the body as an elusive and essential instrument of mourning. REMEMBERING BODIES IN ‘THE ALTAR OF THE DEAD’ James’s notebook entries in preparation for ‘The Altar of the Dead’ suggest we can productively read the eventual tale as, in part, a story of its own composition and of the difficulties posed by its subject, particularly the difficulty of providing a material representation of Stransom’s devotion. In his notes, James imagines the materialization of Stransom’s commemoration as a solution to problems posed by his donnée. Where Stransom begins with ‘an altar in his mind, in his soul, more splendid to the spiritual eye than any shrine in any actual church’, James notes the need to make the altar physical: ‘I probably can’t get an adequate action unless I enlarge this idea. Let me suppose for the moment, at any rate, that he has set up a spiritual altar—either in some Catholic church or in some apartment or chapel of his own house.’12 Three days later, James positions this transition in thought as pivotal to his newly ‘clear’ understanding of his ‘little subject’: ‘My hero’s altar has long been a “spiritual” one—lighted in the gloom of his own soul. Then it becomes a material one, and the event is determined’ by him ‘wander[ing] into’ a ‘suburban (of course, Catholic) church on a winter afternoon’. But when James later returned to discussing the tale in his notebooks, it was to record his disappointment with his execution; the idea, he feels, was only ‘a little fancy’ and its narrative lacks ‘solidity’: ‘Only the fine, the large, the human, the natural, the fundamental, the passionate things’ can, he declares, stand; ‘Everything else breaks down, collapses, turns thin, turns poor, turns wretched—betrays one miserably.’13 Desiring to justify, dealing with disappointment, James’s notes, in many ways, follow Stransom’s plot of construction. Stransom does, indeed, begin the tale with a private altar ‘lighted with perpetual candles and dedicated to […] secret rites, reared […] in his spiritual spaces’ (451). And it is then, on a walk from the cemetery, when he drops into ‘a temple of the old persuasion’ in which a ‘high altar’ (456) blazes with candles, that he acquires a desire to make his worship material: ‘The thing became, as he sat there, his appropriate altar’. The candles make ‘together a brightness vast and intense, a brightness in which the mere chapel of his thoughts grew so dim that as it faded away he asked himself if he shouldn’t find his real comfort in some material act, some outward worship’ (457). But if James saw the material altar as a necessary ‘conceit’ for the narrative’s ‘action’, bringing Stransom’s private devotions into a public sphere suitable for the social drama of a story, the tale treats this transition from the spiritual to the material, from the private to the public, as ambiguously effected and ethically fraught. The shift in treatment from notebook to tale is significant: in the notebooks (as later in the preface) James identifies with Stransom as one of the few individuals capable of consecrating the dead in a superficial age; in the tale itself, however, Stransom’s establishment of a material altar renders his style of mourning (and, by extension, James’s own commemorative style) suspect. Stransom’s first approach to the altar, the moment at which he ‘ceased to feel an intruder’, comes when he gains ‘at last […] a sense of community with the only worshipper in his neighbourhood, the sombre presence of a woman, in mourning unrelieved, whose back was all he could see of her and who had sunk deep into prayer at no great distance from him’ (456–7). Starting from that most Jamesian of positions (behind the back of another character), Stransom gains and then immediately forecloses the possibility of community made present through the body of an other; while he might long to replicate her ‘prostration’, his instincts prompt him first to shift from such ‘indelicate’ contact and then to ‘los[e] himself altogether’: ‘he floated away on the sea of light.’ The shift is not only a physical movement of Stransom’s body in this space but also part of a pattern of distancing that has made his continuing abstraction of his private altar from its social sources psychologically possible: ‘If occasions like this had been more frequent in his life he would have been more frequently conscious of the great original type, set up in a myriad temples, of the unapproachable shrine he had erected in his mind’ (457). But Stransom’s instincts for abstraction also seem to be justified when, as the endpoint for this scene, the woman rises to vacate the chapel, leaving him with only ‘a glimpse of her pale face and her unconscious, almost sightless eyes’ (458). The chapel, it might seem, was built for bodies passing, sightless, like ships in the night. Like Lambert Strether in his first glimpse of Marie de Vionnet’s devotions at Nôtre Dame in The Ambassadors, Stransom, approaching from behind, establishes an imaginative, potentially queer, distance from the other’s desired body as the grounds for a community of feeling (the queerness of that position will become belatedly apparent when the story reveals Acton Hague to be the object of the woman’s devotions); like Strether, Stransom’s desires to see leave him uncertainly suspended between ‘material act[s]’ and an almost spectral erasure of his body from the scene of vision and devotion. The eventual crashing down of Stransom’s system at the end of the tale comes then as a belated, complicated awakening of the body and of the body’s connection to others, an awakening that makes a case for the self’s passionate embodiment even as it draws attention to both the social sphere’s and writing’s inevitable obfuscation of the body’s presence. Prior to this point, Stransom’s form of devotion has, in fact, been necessarily physical, an almost frenzy of movement ‘wander[ing] in the fields of light; he passe[s], among the tall tapers, from tier to tier, from fire to fire, from name to name’. But his trick has been to subject these personal motions to a kind of rhetorical erasure: while he conceives of himself as ‘face to face’ with ‘his Dead’, his own face disappears as time and again ‘He los[es] himself in the large lustre’ (481). In the closing scene, Stransom enters the church after two weeks of illness, placing himself in a familiar state of bodily renunciation and rhetorical self-erasure—‘He sank on his knees before his altar, and his head fell over on his hands […] It seemed to him he had come for the great surrender […] He had come, as he always came, to lose himself’. But here, at the point of physical exhaustion, met with the ‘human beauty’ of Mary Antrim in the altar’s most radiant candle, Stransom experiences a new sense of embodiment, one marked by a queerly resonant surfacing of shame: ‘he felt his buried face grow hot as with some communicated knowledge’ (483); his spirit is opened ‘with a great compunctious throb for the descent of Acton Hague’ (484). The immense queer resonance of Stransom’s turn—the burning glow of a knowledge suppressed and a shame realized; the ‘clandestine connection’ (483) that occasions his return to the church; the ‘throb’ of Hague’s forbidden presence—suggests that a complicated intermingling of others’ bodies marks out the moment of Stransom’s belated recognitions. As a sign of how such intermingling disrupts his propensity for abstraction and leads him toward an attenuated sense of commemoration’s materiality, Stransom’s figurative accounts of his altar take on an increasingly aural form—where he was once ‘handling the empty shells and playing with the silence’ (481) of his votive reminders, he finds himself now responding to the ‘central voice of the choir’ (483); Mary Antrim’s eyes speak ‘to him’ (484) and the candles, he informs the unnamed woman, ‘sing out like a choir of angels’ (485). Ambiguously resonant, voiced yet disembodied, the language of sound signifies Stransom’s awakening to a liminal commemorative experience, ‘playing’ between the corporeal and the figurative. And yet, it is a quieter, less spectacular but no less significant corporeal shift that structures Stransom’s final moments in the tale. The closing scene moves toward managing a striking shift between Stransom’s (and James’s) lustrously imagined ‘fields of light’ (481) and a series of pared back, carefully minimalist, perhaps unremarkable descriptions of how the bodies of Stransom and the unnamed woman negotiate the space now marked by his belated self-awareness. Stransom ‘rises to his feet with a movement that made him turn, supporting himself by the back of a bench’ (484); the woman, who this time he looks at ‘till she seemed to become aware he had noticed her’, comes ‘straight to him with both hands out’ (484); he holds ‘her hands and they steadied and quickened him’; she ‘disengage[s] one of her hands and passe[s] an arm round him better, to help him sink into a seat’; he ‘let[s] himself go’ but not, in this instance, to lose himself; rather to find himself supported by the body of an other, ‘resting on her; he dropped upon the bench, and she fell on her knees beside him with his arm on her shoulder’ (485). The piling up of what almost amount to stage directions signals a new awareness both in Stransom’s devotions and in James’s style to the embodied experience demanded by the ‘material act’ of commemoration. At the same time, the scene’s resolution of Stransom’s queerly resonant shame through the choreographed movements of man and woman—held in their triangulated ‘clandestine connection’ to Acton Hague’s dead presence—bespeaks the tale’s self-conscious sense of how desires (to hold, to mourn, to remember) always mediate the subject’s experience of embodiment. James’s climax ambiguously balances Stransom’s experience of the altar as a space of spectral vocality and visionary transcendence against the narrative’s attention to the more mundane actuality of his quietly mobilized body. Stransom’s (and James’s) altars—spiritual and material—offer, then, space for a complicated reflection on the nature of commemorative style, on the remembering subject’s (and commemorative text’s) necessary yet contingent engagement with both their own bodies and the bodies of others. Where I began this article by tracing a critical genealogy that has tended to empty out the bodies of James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ even as it held the tale up as exemplary of the Jamesian outlook and method, I turn now to an alternative set of responses. François Truffaut’s film adaptation of this tale (and other stories by James) in La Chambre verte (1978) unfolds its own meditation on film’s capacity for remembrance and on the image’s framing of the remembered body (including in the memorable final scene a framed photo of Henry James’s body). More recently, the title of Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies (2010) announces her novel’s corporeal project, resituating the transatlantic plot of James’s The Ambassadors against the plight of Jewish refugees in post-World War Two Europe. James’s altar-trope returns, here, as a troubling commemorative tie between the desiring bodies of Ozick’s American characters and the traumatized ‘foreign bodies’ of European Jews. In quite different ways, Truffaut’s film and Ozick’s novel ask us to re-frame and re-member James’s tale, and his corpus, with an awareness of their complicated corporeal possibilities. IN THE FRAME: JAMES’S BODIES IN FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT’S LA CHAMBRE VERTE In his dual roles as the director of La Chambre verte and as the lead actor, playing Julien Davenne, a widower, war veteran, and obituary-writer for the failing Globe newspaper, François Truffaut offers up a compellingly elliptical commentary on the body as a site of mourning and remembrance. Truffaut’s notes in preparation of the script for La Chambre verte bear an uncanny and telling similarity to the transitional path from spiritual to material commemoration traced by both James’s notebook entries for ‘The Altar to the Dead’ and the eventual tale. Here Truffaut records the importance of Julien’s materialized rituals for the film’s effects: The inconvenient thing with James is that things are never said expressly and we cannot allow ourselves to be that vague and unclear in a film. We should clarify everything and make it more precise. We should also, by a thousand inventions, expand that which I call privileged moments […] Here, the privileged moments are the scenes of worship, the lighting of candles, the rites, the religious side à la japonaise, this is our profound reason for making the film.14Truffaut’s language hints at the film’s compellingly ambivalent attitude towards its protagonist’s ritualized practices—these moments of ‘worship’ are ‘privileged’ in the film, especially through the soundtrack’s incorporation of Maurice Jaubert’s soaring Concert flamand, conspicuous camera movement, and atmospheric lighting, but for whom? For David Van Leer, such moments suggest a ‘tonal miscalculation’ and a ‘slight lack of sympathy with’ the film’s ‘Jamesian source’.15 The film fails, according to Van Leer, to question ‘the appropriateness of the protagonist’s preoccupation with death, and it stages the altar scenes with affection, even reverence’.16 Françoise Zamour, who identifies Julien’s tending of his altar as a symbol for ‘devotion to cinema’, claims that the film ‘celebrates, in a ceremonious way, exile from life and the renunciation of desire and love’.17 But such accounts miss the supple quality of James’s story—both sympathetic and critical in its handling of Stransom’s egotistical renunciations—and the extent to which Truffaut’s film qualifies its interest in Julien; indeed, recalling the corporeal lessons of James’s story, it is through a series of scenes concerned with bodily representation and replication and through the camera’s equivocal framing of Julien’s own mourning body that the film complicates the idea of reverence. In the narrative details of La Chambre verte, Truffaut enacts something broader than a mere adaptation and modernization of ‘The Altar of the Dead’. Through the incorporation of material from two others tales, the film enacts a larger commemoration of James’s interest in the almost spectral absences that sometimes structure relationships between his characters. Like John Marcher when he encounters May Bartram at the start of ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, Julien hopelessly bungles his efforts to recall an earlier meeting with Cécelia Mandel (Truffaut gives the unnamed woman of James’s tale both a name and a job in the auctioning house handling the estate of the family of Julien’s late wife, Julie). And like the main characters in James’s 1896 tale ‘The Way It Came’ (later titled ‘The Friends of the Friends’), the intimacy of Julien and Cécelia is built on their shared experiences of having seen loved ones appear like ghosts on the day they died (Cécelia sees her father, Julien his wife). This patchwork of narrative fragments positions Truffaut’s film as a wider meditation on a Jamesian thematics of absence—as in the story of George Stransom, James’s characters frequently move between erasure of the living bodies before them and emphatic realizations of others in their absence. It is no accident, then, that the film’s ambivalent approach to Julien’s fixation on bodies most present in their absence also surfaces in its most explicit homage to its source: when Truffaut’s Julien pauses before a photograph of Henry James hung amongst the various framed images that adorn his altar (many of which include personal and professional acquaintances of Truffaut), he declares that despite the fact that he did not know him well this man taught him ‘the importance of respect for the dead’. If, as I am suggesting, Truffaut’s film queries Julien’s propensity for abstracting the lives and deaths of others, then the camera’s pause over James’s framed image (as Julien and Cécelia walk off-screen) also brings a critical lens to Julien’s ascription of that propensity to James; the camera’s stationary attention to the image (like the frame in which Julien has placed the photograph) captures Julien’s reverence for the Master even as its lingering gaze, in the absence of the film’s characters, demands a recognition of our own necessary, embodied presence as the film’s, and the altar’s, audience. The pause before James’s portrait highlights the film’s sustained and self-referential interest in the relationship between the camera’s gaze and the framed body—the placement of portraits as supplements to Julien’s votive arrangements (unlike Stransom’s imageless altar) points to Truffaut’s interest in the Jamesian altar as a more specifically visual, proto-filmic figure. Early in La Chambre verte, the camera aligns us with Julien and his deaf son, George, who operates a slide-projector as they gaze in awe at black-and-white images of dead (and, in one instance, decapitated) soldiers and battle scenes from World War One. As perhaps an indication of how Julien’s vision freezes the body rather than locating it as subject to movement and change, the images are projected onto the reverse-side of an educational poster concerning the metamorphosis of insects entitled ‘La Mue chez les anthropodes’. In place of such animalized corporeal progression, the scene, instead, attends to the intertangling of human movement and machine as, like the pair in the darkened room, we see the images sliding into the projector until they fill the frame and then, as the scene progresses, we follow cuts between shots of George handling the slides and reverse shots of the slide’s projected image—on one hand, we are invited to share Julien’s scopophilic appraisal of the images as ‘very beautiful’ and to feel our participation in that gaze as a strange kind of intimacy (between father and son, between director and audience); on the other, the scene’s careful attention to George’s hands (both arranging the slides and communicating, excitedly, with Julien by sign language) suggest both Julien’s and cinema’s capacity to erase the living bodies that condition our desire for the image. This scene prepares the audience for our first entry into Julien’s initial altar in the titular ‘green room’, a shrine in his home in which two adjoining walls of photographs and paintings of Julie form the focus of Julien’s devotions. As Julien spends a night in contemplation in the room, the camera communicates his meditative presence, and once more aligns us with Julien’s perspective, by slowly panning and tilting across the various images, one by one, while we hear, for the first time, a lush crescendo of strings from Jaubert’s Concert flamand. At the last of these portraits, the camera tracks in until Julie’s profile fills the screen and the image dissolves into a second profile shot, almost identical, that, as the camera tracks back, is revealed to be part of her headstone. This final transition suggests Julien’s desire for a vision transcending the bodily removal of the dead from the living—the dissolve bridges the house and the graveyard just as the grave’s image, to which Julien talks, bridges the distance between mourner and mourned. But the dissolve, as a filmic device connecting two scenes in which a character occupies two separate physical spaces, also cannot help but underscore the difference between Julien’s gaze and our own stationary participation in that gaze in the confined space of a theatre. Philip Watts, building on Ludovic Cortade, notes how Truffaut’s career-long investment in the filming of still photographs (for instance, the famous freeze-frame that concludes Les 400 coups [1959]) invites a ‘a desire […] to suspend his films, that is both to stop them in their tracks and to leave open the possibility of further fictions’.18 In La Chambre verte, however, the suspended pleasure of the photograph—both for Julien and for the viewer—sits in uneasy tension with the film’s treatment of a twinned site of bodily replication and mourning: sculpture. Throughout the film, Truffaut interlaces sequences illustrating Julien’s devotion to framed images with scenes involving unsatisfactory efforts to memorialize his late wife through the sculpted body. So the scene of our first entry into the ‘green room’, involves Julien taking a recently acquired ring belonging to his wife and placing it on a plaster cast of her hand sitting atop a table before the wall of portraits. When a fire later causes damage to the room, Julien vows, at Julie’s grave, to find a way of having her closer; in the succeeding scene, Julien is shown visiting a backstreet workshop late at night, where the proprietor reveals, from behind a curtain, a life-size clay mannequin of his late wife. Julien is distressed by the mannequin’s failure to capture her life and he pays for it, demanding that the perplexed sculptor destroy the work on the spot. The scene of the mannequin’s destruction then echoes in a later scene in which George sneaks out of the house at night, after having been sent to bed for dropping the prized World War One slides, and throws a rock through a shop window in order to pilfer one of several busts of women’s heads displaying jewellery. The intertwined motifs of portraiture and sculpture suggest that, for Julien, the materialized form of sculpture proves insufficiently elegiac in comparison with the projected or illuminated (that is, cinematic) image—only amongst the candlelit portraits that adorn his converted chapel can the dead, as he declares to Cécelia in the film’s final scene, be ‘more present than ever’. But the film’s careful juxtapositions also imply that Julien’s images cannot extract themselves from the dissatisfactions, the lifelessness and substitution, he associates with sculpture. If the various severed replications of the female body evoke the fragmentary nature of commemoration and the difficulty of capturing lost presence, they also point to Julien’s commemorative acts as severing/severe, a decapitation of the mind from the world of the living body. Annette Insdorf reads George’s quest for his mother’s materialized image in the form of the shop-window bust as ‘an extension of Julien’s own morbid possessiveness in the green room.’19 The fact that George’s breaking of the reflective glass display case comes in response to Julien’s punishment for the breaking of the treasured slide positions Julien’s devotion to the image or the screen—both the framed slide and the replicated body—as, at once, fragile and violent in its effects. Matthew E. Jordan finds in Truffaut’s film an exploration of commemoration, of its uneasy movements between mourning, nostalgia, and melancholia: ‘How can we locate the line,’ Jordan asks, ‘between necessary remembrance and excessive fixation, between a healthy piety that honors the past and a pathological inability to mourn that poisons the present?’20 That line, I would argue, is traced by the camera’s tracking and framing of Julien’s and Cécelia’s movements inside the chapel, an echo of the carefully choreographed conclusion to James’s tale. Recalling the scene of Julien’s night in the green room, Julien’s introduction of Cécelia to his private chapel seems to invite, at first, our reverence for his dramatic arrangement of the chapel. Explicitly mimicking his actual directorial role by making final adjustments to the chapel’s mise-en-scène before allowing Cécelia (and the camera) to take in the space, Truffaut’s Julien literally leads us toward the altar—as Cécelia enters the church, we cut to a shot from the perspective of either her or Julien (or both) slowly walking, hand in hand, toward the centre-aisle until the camera rests, symmetrically framing the ‘forêt de flames’ (the ambiguity of perspective suggests that Cécelia, and the viewer, share Julien’s vision at this moment). Jaubert’s score re-enters at the moment of Cécelia’s introduction to the space and, at the instant at which the camera tracks left beyond a silhouetted pillar obscuring the view of the altar, a cymbal in the soundtrack gives us the beginning of the dramatic dirge-like march that will accompany the couple’s and the camera’s movement toward the altar. The final frame of this climactic sequence underscores our apparent alignment with Julien’s project and our presumed appreciation of its effects: the sanctuary is closed in by a set of ornamental, wrought-iron gates and the camera moves toward a final resting position in which Julie’s portrait, at the centre of the altar, is perfectly framed by the curlicue ornamentation of the gate which remains out of focus in the shot’s middle-ground. At this point, Truffaut’s direction appears to be of a piece with his character’s efforts to do justice to his quasi-religious arrangements. But just as James’s story trains our attention on the embodied movements of the characters through the chapel’s overdetermined, figurative space, so too does Truffaut’s film ask us to consider Cécelia’s presence as a challenge to both Julien’s and the film’s appeals to visual order. After Julien has led Cécelia into the enclosed space and provided her with a tour of the various photos along the walls of the sanctuary, he asks if he can ask her something and, in preparation, closes the gates once more; this action ensures that, with the camera positioned outside the sanctuary, the couple this time is visually contained by the gate’s ornamentation, their heads tightly framed by its curlicues. Truffaut’s blocking of the actors in this sequence underlines the constrictive tone of Julien’s request for Cécelia to join him as the temple’s guardian, ‘to share its rights and duties’ and to add her dead to its collection of flames. When Cécelia moves forward out of this visual arrangement toward the gate, allowing the gate’s lines to cut through and crisscross her image, she voices an alternative vision that challenges Julien’s understanding of the altar-space: ‘I wish that all these flames would mingle to form a mountain of light, one big luminosity’. The tightly separated framing of Julien and Cécelia at the start of this conversation is mapped onto Julien’s proprietorial vision of what he calls his dead, each one singled out and signified through their appropriate candle. In contrast, Cécelia’s vision asks for a broader human sympathy and, visually, the mingling of subject and frame produced by her placement against the gate locates that sympathy in an awareness of the body as more disordered and interconnected than Julien seems capable of seeing. Where Julien’s directorial gaze inducted us into the space of the sanctuary, Cécelia’s movements and the camera’s alternative framing of her body bring this scene to its fade-out, asking us to temper our involvement in Julien’s art. Just as Truffaut’s sanctuary scene juxtaposes alternative gazes and worldviews, James’s fiction consistently plays with the intersections and differences of voir and savoir, of corporeal and figurative seeing. In ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, for instance, John Marcher, on his penultimate trip to May Bartram’s grave, finds her inscribed names have become ‘a pair of eyes that didn’t know him’; when he returns in the tale’s final scene, the eyes of another visitor to the graveyard name ‘to him’ what he has ‘utterly, insanely missed’, the chance to live proffered by May, and he buries his ‘darkened’ eyes and their new knowledge, flinging himself on the tomb.21 In La Chambre verte, an exposure of Julien’s limited capacity to see the lives of others and the camera’s complicated complicity with this worldview punctuates the scene in which he realizes the identity of the death behind Cécelia’s grief. Visiting her home for the first time, Julien discovers he cannot tell Cécelia the colour of her eyes when she covers them to test him: ‘you see’, she wryly notes. When Julien then wanders into an adjoining room while Cécelia tends to a piano student, the camera takes up his increasingly bewildered gaze as it scans across the various objects related to Paul Massigny that decorate this space—Massigny is the film’s version of Acton Hague from ‘The Altar of the Dead’. Where Julien cannot ‘see’ Cécelia in both an intimate and explicitly corporeal way, the camera’s implicit recall of our devotional scanning across the images of the green room underlines just what it is that Julien can see—the shape of an altar. Julien’s hurried flight from the room and down the stairs from the apartment signal how this challenge to his vision will be tied to a sudden physical descent but it is, tellingly, a shot of Cécelia watching that descent from above that brings this scene to its close. In somewhat melodramatic and unsatisfactory fashion, La Chambre verte nods to the corporeal concerns of James’s ‘Altar of the Dead’ through the physical deterioration of Julien: in the film’s final fifteen minutes, Truffaut, the actor, plays up his metamorphosis into sweaty, unshaven, hyperventilating madness. But, as director, Truffaut also orchestrates an understated visual approach to the film’s final rapprochement between Julien and Cécelia, an approach that manages to commemorate something of the original tale’s intimate choreography. In an earlier scene in which Julien first discovers the abandoned church that will become home to his altar, he breaks a window and peers through to the disordered interior—as with the film’s other altar-scenes, the camera takes up Julien’s perspective and scans across the space right to left, up and down, pausing briefly to note one of the few standing remnants of its devotional past: a small sculpted rendition of the pietà. That image of physical holding, so important to the end of James’s tale (and to the ends of other tales such as ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and ‘The Jolly Corner’), also resurfaces at the conclusion to Truffaut’s film but with revealing differences. After Julien drops his cane and collapses to the ground, the final conversation between Julien and Cécelia takes place in a tightly framed two-shot, almost in profile; when Julien, in his final words, declares that he knows that nothing has happened between them and sinks into her lap, the camera watches this from behind Cécelia’s right shoulder so that we mostly see her head bowed over him (as Jaubert’s haunting score starts up once more), and our sole glimpse of the pietà comes after she lifts her head and, in a separate close-up, pulls her hands from his head. Just as Julien’s path through the film suggests both the pleasures and the risks of a perspective (and a cinema) devoted to the sculpted body and the framed image, Truffaut’s quiet handling of this emblematically ‘privileged moment’—its focus on the intimate physical details of the bowed head and the withdrawing hand rather than the implicit tableau—encapsulates the film’s restrained tribute to the doubled devotions of its literary source. Like James’s tale, Truffaut’s film, in its approach to the sanctuary’s moodily lit mise-en-scène, recognizes the attractions of an artfully composed altar but it allows the movements of a body in this space—a living altar, we might say—to break up and revise that framing vision. ‘SOME SORT OF ALTAR’: RE-MEMBERING OTHERS IN CYNTHIA OZICK’S FOREIGN BODIES I conclude by turning to a more recent and likely to be overlooked tribute to the commemorative power of James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ in Cynthia Ozick’s 2010 novel, Foreign Bodies. Ozick’s novel has, naturally, received more attention for its explicit rewriting of James’s The Ambassadors—Ozick transforms the story of Lewis Lambert Strether’s complicated mission to return Chad Newsome from the clutches of the widowed Madame de Vionnet to his career in New England into the tale of Bea Nightingale (nee Nachtigall), a high-school English teacher, and her enlistment by her wealthy brother, Marvin, to rescue his son Julian, and then his daughter Iris, from their relationship with a Romanian-Jewish refugee and concentration camp survivor, Lili, in the aftermath of the Second World War. As in Truffault’s film, the shadow of war extends and queries the limits of James’s commemorative aesthetics, but in this instance, the specific antisemitic resonance of the Shoah and its aftermath allows Ozick to explore, in Merle A. Williams’s words, ‘what Henry James didn’t know (or thoroughly understand), what he could never have known about a cosmopolitan space distorted by devastating violence’.22 For John Carlos Rowe, Ozick’s adaptation, in its attention to the refugees of World War Two, ‘identifies the historical point at which James’s cosmopolitanism failed to achieve a genuine global vision’, but it can only present this argument in the ‘didactic’ form of a ‘melodrama about the impact of globalization on US-Americans’. Ozick’s novel, Rowe argues, relies on an easy division between ‘characters who experience postwar Europe’ and are ‘changed by their knowledge’ (such as Bea, Iris, and Julian) and ‘characters who remain stubbornly insulated in the US’ and are ‘destroyed by their provincialism’ (such as Julian’s parents, Marvin and Margaret).23 But Ozick’s novel is more equivocal, less didactic than Rowe suggests—the value of the changes experienced by Bea, Iris, and Julian are not so clear at the novel’s end and, indeed, the ambiguity of their fates, as ‘foreign bodies’ returned to their homeland, has much to do with Ozick’s entwined interest in Jamesian moments of commemoration and corporeality; indeed, Ozick’s novel imagines James’s corpus as a kind of preparation for the challenges posed to representation by the ‘foreign’, abject body. Beyond Ozick’s reworking of The Ambassadors, Foreign Bodies also evokes James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’ through its treatment of the central character, Bea’s ignorant yet reverent relationship to the ‘protected territory’ of her former husband, Leo Coopersmith’s abandoned grand piano. Bea, her niece Iris notes, treats the ‘enormous grand piano […] like it’s some sort of altar—’.24 Ozick’s nod to James’s parable of commemoration is more oblique than the tributes of either Oates or Truffaut, for Bea’s ‘altar’ does not explicitly remember the dead; rather it lingers, ‘too roaringly huge in’ the ‘modest space’ of her apartment as a ghostly remnant of her former marriage. Nevertheless, Ozick allows this altarpiece to function as a symbolic echo of Stransom’s candles—like his service to the altar to ‘the Dead’, Bea’s ‘reverence’ for Leo’s piano is transformed by the arrival of an other’s, specifically Iris’s, presence; Iris, the first of the novel’s titular ‘calamitous foreign bod[ies]’, ‘finger[s] a key’, leaving a lasting impression that will, in winding ways, propel her to Paris and to her eventual, provisional excision of the piano and Leo’s spectral presence. Through the overspilling presence of the piano, ‘a stupendous lion in a cramped cage’ (20), Ozick ingeniously establishes a dialogue between the ‘ambassadorial traffic’ (18) of her ur-text (what Julie Rivkin has identified as The Ambassadors’ deconstructive ‘logic of delegation’) and the uncontainable loops of metaphor and metonymy that structure ‘The Altar of the Dead’.25 Leo’s lingering shadow in the leonine piano forms a counterpoint with the effects produced by Bea’s overbearing, brash brother, Marvin, the businessman, whose distant presence is felt in the brains of his children, Julian and Iris, and in the judgment of his chosen ambassador to their Parisian hideaway, Bea. Just as the materialization of Stransom’s altar enables James’s tale’s wary tracing of embodiment’s demands, Leo’s piano becomes the figure through which Ozick’s novel’s plays out its guiding concern with ‘bodies’ familial and yet invasively foreign, bodies intensely and yet evasively interconnected. Where James’s story traces a movement from Stransom’s private, spiritual devotions to a relocated, public, and subsequently, contested embodiment of that devotion, Ozick’s novel gives us the transformation and then attempted ‘purge’ or ‘exorcism’ of an altar erected in the home. The difference in plot conceals, however, the extent to which Ozick’s altar-figure speaks back to, and expands on, the structures of intersubjective experience traced by James’s tale. At the story’s outset, the piano stands as a sign of both Bea’s almost forgotten sexuality (not unlike Stransom’s or Strether’s penchants for self-erasure) and her ‘musical blankness’ (not unlike Henry James’s own unmusicality)—she has a ‘deaf chromosome, a missing vertebra’ (25), a ‘spinal absence’ that, in Leo’s mind, had allowed him to keep himself and his music ‘immaculate’, uncontaminated (26).26 For Bea, their brief young marriage intertwined Leo’s music with their sex life, so that the piano ‘so hotly close to the bed, fevered it with unpredictable paroxysms’: the piano was ‘insidious, it swam in her blood and then coughed her out as foreign matter’ (37). In the aftermath, Bea ‘worship[s]’ the piano ‘partly out of ignorance, partly out of reverence’. But Iris’s arrival, ‘out of the ether […] this calamitous foreign body’, and her ‘violating’ touch transforms the silent instrument, bringing out a ‘single sound, lone, unattached, desolate. Even chaste’ (26). Iris’s touch sets off a chain of touchings, of unknowing performances, that structure the novel’s ambassadorial exchanges. Bea impulsively follows Iris to Paris, encounters Julian and his wife, Lili, and returns from these ‘witnessed shiftings’ transformed. Paris is the ‘hinge’ that propels her ‘to get rid of the grand’ (136). But Paris also returns her to Leo when she learns that Marvin has visited him, looking for some inside path for Julian into Hollywood—Bea visits Leo and in a moment of seeming unconscious genius she strikes a sublime chord on his new piano, a Blüthner: ‘It was’, Leo realizes, ‘the opening bars of the symphony he was yet to write’ (115). Both Bea’s removal of the piano and her playing of the chord advance the novel’s vision of bodies as ineluctably enmeshed. Despite her removal of the piano-altar, and then her removal of its shadow, its ‘bleeding silhouette’ (165) in the carpet, Bea cannot successfully purge Leo’s presence. When, in the novel’s conclusion, Leo sends Bea the score for his newly minted Nightingale symphony, he envisages it as a bodily revenge on the ‘unman[ning]’ effects of her lingering touch on the Blüthner: it is a script viscerally his own—‘torn out of his lungs, out of his testes’—yet translated, he feels, into a ‘sublime’ language beyond her reach (239). But Ozick enigmatically leaves us with Bea’s unmusical appreciation of ‘the grand restored’, of the score’s ‘inky tattoos’, as the scene of her envisaged victory. Like the scene of awakened embodiment that closes off James’s ‘Altar of the Dead’, Ozick’s novel lingers, at its end, on Bea’s bodily awakening to this irremovable altar, on her realization of her capacity to ‘change the lives of others’: ‘there was an excitement in it, a glorious wilderness under the breastbone, a metronome charging in her temples […] Her heart in its cage a foreign body—it had no business stirring up this frenzy, this delirium of knowing and unknowing’ (254). Of course, the life that Bea most tellingly changes, the ‘foreign body’ about whom she remains necessarily ‘unknowing’, is that of her new niece-in-law, Lili. And it is in the tight parallels that Ozick’s novel draws between the piano’s intertwinements and the ‘densely entangled’ (225) bodies of Julian and Lili that Ozick’s novel sounds its clearest notes of commemoration, notes that challenge the limits of James’s transatlantic manners even as they resolve in the most ambiguously Jamesian of cadences. In lateral, perhaps disconcerting ways, the piano does become a kind of commemoration of the Dead, the unspeakable Dead of the Shoah, by virtue of the figurative connections the novel insists on between its discordant lingering and the changes wrought on Bea’s family by the introduction of Lili and her trauma. The connections are often made through jarring juxtapositions of the novel’s short chapters—Leo’s attempt to trace Bea’s ‘lost chord’, the sound that inflames his ‘tender secret testicles’, and that resonates as ‘a hideous hollow, like an anus’ and that awaits in the keys ‘the operative combination’, comes on the heels of the disturbing scene in which Lili, having aborted a foetus, ‘open[s] her body’ to Julian: ‘dry-eyed, dry-mouthed, surprised and unsurprised, hurting in the place where they had combed her that day with an iron comb’ (178). Soon after that Iris, like Leo, is also tracing the meaning of lingering sounds, those uncannily interchangeable cries left, like ghosts, by ‘her brother’s lovemaking’ and ‘his wife’s horrific dreams’ in their previous residence (190). It is in this context that Bea’s exorcism of the grand piano functions as an uncomfortable double to Lili’s handling of her trauma, her ‘black purge, like a vomiting’ (104) of the memory of her husband’s and child’s deaths. And so Ozick explicitly entwines Bea’s exorcism of Leo with her efforts to excise Marvin and his imperious demands from Julian’s life. Marvin leaves Bea with an extravagant cheque for the married couple, designed to keep Julian and Lili from returning stateside and spoiling his vision of the Nachtigalls’ successful assimilation to white America. In a scene evoking other Jamesian burnings (in ‘The Aspern Papers’ and The Wings of the Dove), Bea takes the cheque from inside Leo’s copy of Mann’s Doctor Faustus (where she had unconsciously placed it) and uses it as the tool for two purgings—she will read the random passage marked in Doctor Faustus by the cheque as a sign of Leo’s fate and she will burn the cheque: ‘The exorcism of Leo Coppersmith. The exorcism of the ashes in the sink. Merged in a single night’ (214). If Bea’s repeated purgings of Leo and his grand are to be read as her revenge on the instrument that rendered her own body ‘as foreign matter’, it becomes through this path a clearing of space to welcome the traumatized ‘foreign body’ that is Lili—this becomes quite literal when Bea has them stay in her apartment, in the absence of the cheque, en route to new lives in Texas: the air, she feels, is ‘swollen with her nephew and his wife. Their farness and their nearness filled every corner’ (226). Indeed, Julian’s transformation by Lili’s mutilated hand positions him as a kind of replacement, for Bea, of Leo and his unrealized aspirations; by the end of this same chapter, Bea’s focalized voice appears to read Julian’s new atheist existentialism (he wants to ‘think about’ why ‘there isn’t any God’ [226]) and the likely ‘fad[ing]’ of his ‘infatuation’ with Lili as of a piece with Leo’s musical silence: ‘The symphony that never was, the God that never is’ (231). But the grand piano as a persistent site of unknowing worship haunts and reminds us of the inadequacies of Bea’s (and the narrator’s) analogy, of the imbalances that structure these intertwined narratives of bodies made foreign, expendable and, perhaps, assimilable in startlingly different contexts. Just as James insistently returns in his transatlantic fiction to the suppressed violence wrought by European values and mores, Ozick locates in Lili’s foreignness, the unassimilable otherness of her abject body, an occluded and compromising silence that cannot be disentangled from Leo’s altar of artistic ambition. While Ozick’s novel, not unlike Oates’s short story, draws our attention to the human detritus that escaped Henry James’s commemorations of transatlantic manners and their ‘ambassadorial traffic’, it also depends on a quintessentially Jamesian turn; the novel’s figuratively detached incorporation of Lili’s otherness plays out a familiar structure whereby James’s spectators involve themselves in and remove themselves from characters at the margins (like Stransom’s woman who lacks even a name). Much as Stransom’s altar becomes a torn symbol—both a privileged, disembodied style of devotion and a necessarily material scene of mourning—Leo’s piano comes to suggest the interconnectedness of Ozick’s various ‘foreign bodies’ even as it continues to evoke a privileged and abstracted form of art, removed from the very violence it might seem to channel; this is, of course, not dissimilar from the tension we experience at the end of La Chambre verte when swelling music also invites us both to adopt and to distance ourselves from the abstracting, commemorative beauty of Julien’s altar. Carole Kessner has identified Ozick’s description, in the opening pages, of the ‘ineradicable’ effects of the war on Paris’s refugees as ‘the essence of her book’: ‘They were the Europeans whom Europe had set upon; they wore Europe’s tattoo’ (3).27 But that description echoes, uncannily and not entirely comfortably, in the novel’s final scene describing Bea’s response to Leo’s vengefully gifted score: ‘here was the grand restored […], its stain on her thrown-out carpet returned in these inky tattoos, her devil’s exorcism reversed’ (254). In this way, peculiarly, Leo’s parting ‘gift’—with its ‘fragile fishtails’, its marks resembling an ‘ampersand’s belly’ and a ‘swollen comma’—intones a fitting final commemorative nod to the ambiguous force of the Jamesian altar, yoking the corporeal and the textual, animating a ‘delirium of knowing and unknowing’ (254). Footnotes 1 Edmund Gosse, ‘James’s Funeral’, Times [4 March 1916]. 2 Anthony Lane, ‘A Day for Henry James’, New Yorker [4 March 2016] <http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-day-for-henry-james> accessed 1 October 2017. 3 Henry James, Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other European Writers, The Prefaces to the New York Edition, ed. Mark Wilson and Leon Edel (New York, NY, 1984), 1249. 4 H. G. Wells, Boon, the Mind of the Race, the Wild Asses of the Devil,andthe Last Trump (London, 1915), 106–7. 5 Rebecca West, Henry James (London, 1916), 86, 115. 6 Joyce Carol Oates, Wild Nights! (New York, NY, 2008), 165. All future references to this text will be provided in parentheses in the body of the text. 7 Joyce Carol Oates, ‘Oates Details Writers’ Last Days in Wild Nights’, transcript of interview with Liane Hansen <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89979929> accessed 15 September 2017. 8 Lucy Biederman, ‘After the Year of Henry James: The Undermining of Authority in Short Fictions by Cynthia Ozick and Joyce Carol Oates’, Henry James Review, 38 (2017), 87–100, 95. 9 Biederman, ‘After the Year’, 97. 10 Henry James, ‘The Altar of the Dead’, Complete Stories of Henry James, 1892–1898 (New York, NY, 1996), 270–1. All future references to this text will be provided in parentheses in the body of the text. 11 Sigi Jöttkandt, Acting Beautifully: Henry James and the Ethical Aesthetic (New York, NY, 2005), 124. 12 The Complete Notebooks of Henry James, ed. Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers (Oxford, 1987), 98. 13 The Complete Notebooks, 99. 14 François Truffaut, Correspondance, Recuillies par Gilles Jacob et Claude de Givray (Renens, 1988), 447, quoted and translated in Matthew Jordan, ‘Memory, Nostalgia and Melancholia: Unlocking the Secrets of Truffaut’s The Green Room’, in Susan Griffin (ed.), Henry James Goes to the Movies (Lexington, 2002), 76–98. 15 David Van Leer, ‘Frank and Jim Go Boating: Henry James and the French New Wave’, in John Bradley (ed.), Henry James on Stage and Screen (New York, NY, 2000), 56–71. 16 Van Leer, ‘Frank and Jim Go Boating’, 89. 17 Françoise Zamour, ‘La Chambre verte and the Beating Heart of Truffaut’s Oeuvre’, in Dudley Andrew and Anne Gillain (eds), A Companion to François Truffaut (Malden, 2013), 561–70. 18 Philip Watts, ‘The Elegist: François Truffaut inside La Chambre verte’, in Andrew and Gillain (eds), A Companion to François Truffaut, 546–60. 19 Annette Insdorf, François Truffaut (Cambridge, 1994), 221–2. 20 Jordan, ‘Memory, Nostalgia, and Melancholy’, 77. 21 Henry James, ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, Complete Stories of Henry James, 1898–1910 (New York, NY, 1999), 535, 539, 541. 22 Merle A. Williams, ‘Tracing the Foreign and the Other: From The Ambassadors to Foreign Bodies’, unpublished conference paper delivered at Commemorating Henry James/Commemoration in Henry James, Brandeis University, 9 June 2016. 23 John Carlos Rowe, ‘Literary Adaptations of James in Roth’s, Ozick’s, and Franzen’s Work’, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 16 (2014), 5: https://doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.2414. 24 Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies (Boston, MA, and New York, NY, 2010), 241. All future references to this text will be provided in parentheses in the body of the text. 25 Julie Rivkin, False Positions: The Representational Logics of Henry James’s Fictions (Stanford, CA, 1996), 57–81. 26 James once described himself as ‘unlyrical, unmusical, unrhythmical, unmanageable’. Henry James Letters, ed. Leon Edel, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1980), 1. 230. 27 Carole Kessner, ‘Foreign Bodies: A Pentimento’, Studies in American Jewish Literature, 31 (2012), 200–15, 213. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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The Review of English StudiesOxford University Press

Published: Apr 25, 2018

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