Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Jolly Corner by Henry James

Obviously the ghost story was a nice little earner. No one was too proud to pick up the spectral shilling. Henry James, Edith Wharton, George Eliot, The Benson Boys all condescended. My reading today was James’s The Jolly Corner which is very good on every level, metaphysical indeed in both the vulgar and the special sense.

In his marvellously controlled sidling manner of indirection by precision and elaboration James constructs the portrait of a man intent on grasping his alternate might have been self.

Spencer Brydon recognised it—it was in fact what he had absolutely professed.  Yet he importantly qualified.  “He isn’t myself.  He’s the just so totally other person.  But I do want to see him,” he added.  “And I can.  And I shall.”

There is danger in meeting that stayed behind who may be the dark other and less than other. It is called by the Tibetan yogis a tulpa and of course the adepts can control this manifestation and concretisation of their own power. The hero of James’s story calls up or tries to call up by a constant revisiting of the house and a wandering through its dark passages always leaving the doors that communicate between the rooms open. It is a mark of this symbolic and practical detail that it operates at a subliminal level.

As related by Alexandra David-Neel in her book With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet these tulpas have been known to elude the control of their creator and take an independent and rebellious life.

She writes:
However, the practice is considered as fraught with danger for every one who has not reached a high mental and spiritual degree of enlightenment and is not fully aware of the nature of the psychic forces at work in the process.

Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker's control. This, say Tibetan occultists, happens nearly mechanically, just as the child, when his body is completed and able to live apart, leaves its mother's womb. Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one heahears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.

That the form may exist in the subtle plane is shown by his friend Miss Staverton’s experience of him in two dreams.
“I’ve seen him in a dream
Oh a ‘dream’—!”  It let him down.
“But twice over,” she continued.  “I saw him as I see you now.”

This intrigues Bryden but before he can absorb the delicious effect of his being dreamed of they part and the next chapter opens in which he begins to stalk the resident of the old house. What is he trying to catch? No more and no less than the Ka that is locked up in the tomb of the past.

 His alter ego “walked”—that was the note of his image of him, while his image of his motive for his own odd pastime was the desire to waylay him and meet him.

The hunt or haunt is on and it is a success:
On his return that night—the night succeeding his last intermission—he stood in the hall and looked up the staircase with a certainty more intimate than any he had yet known.  “He’s there, at the top, and waiting—not, as in general, falling back for disappearance.  He’s holding his ground, and it’s the first time—which is a proof, isn’t it? that something has happened for him.”

James’s special gifts of circling allusiveness, of vague palping of reality are especially suitable to this sort of tale. It is amongst his best writing.


john doyle said...

"“Haven’t you exactly wanted to know how different? So this morning,” she said, “you appeared to me.”

“Like him?”

“A black stranger!”


Doyle is a surname of Irish origin. The name is a Anglicisation of the Irish Ó Dubhghaill, meaning "descendant of Dubhghall". The personal name Dubhghall contains the elements dubh "black" + gall "stranger".

ombhurbhuva said...

The black stranger and his more welcome or more auspicious aspect 'the dark stranger'. The story is almost textbook Jung.
How deep James can be when he is playing and how tiresomely portentous when serious. The digital ablation of his shadow is pure inspiration and corresponds to the experience that Alexandra David-Neel had of the alteration in the tulpa she conjured who was a Jolly Friar to begin with but became lean and mean as he became detached and out of her control She relates that it took her 6 months of intense work to dissolve the Friar.

James wrote this story in 1909 when he was resident at Lamb House in Rye. He later bought it and after his death E.F. Benson who had visited him there leased it from his nephew. It is described in Queen Lucia though the garden room to be seen in that brooding portrait of James, clean shaven and desolate, in the garden, was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War. (cf. Lamb House, Rye - Images on Google)

john doyle said...

It is strange for the double to be the one with the castrated fingers. At least he told dear patient Alice that Brydon really does want her after all.

Yes Jung's metapsychology is quite theatrical, as is Freud's. The influence on them of stories like Jekyll/Hyde, Dorian Gray, Dracula, and Jolly Corner must have been profound. It's curious how in these stories and theories the repressed material, disjointed and elusive in its early manifestations, eventually congeals into a full-blown alter-ego. Maybe it was easier for the Victorian mind to double the immutable self-essence than to fragment it.

ombhurbhuva said...

There's somewhere on the tip of my mind a story of James's about life in a mirror, a through the looking glass sort of tale. Dostoevsky has a double story and R.L.S. a doppleganger.
In India I was told of a ritual in which a mantra is uttered when your shadow is the same length as yourself which causes it to be detached and projected above you for the purposes of diagnosis of illness. To be in doubt is to be doubled.