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Sunday, 6 September 2015

"The Patagonia" (Henry James)

This 1st time reader of Henry James, after reading "Daisy Miller" and "Pandora", has been quite frustrated by "The Patagonia". Tom at Wuthering Expectations has just written about the Daisy Millers and anti-Daisy Millers in several works by James, and here again we find a female character similar to Daisy, a male character that studies this Daisy, a bunch of people that have nothing worthwhile to do and sit there poking their noses into someone else's business, judging and gossiping, a clash of values and a scandal of sorts. The Daisy Miller of "The Patagonia" is named Grace Mavis, Winterbourne is now the narrator (what's his name?- if it's mentioned, I can't remember) and the Italian now becomes a more prominent character, named Jasper Nettlepoint. 
However, there's an interesting development in the later part of the story, and the ending makes one question everything in it. Why does she do what she does? Is there anything between her and Jasper? Is she innocent? If "Daisy Miller" is ambiguous, "The Patagonia" is even more. We should be content with its inconclusiveness, shouldn't we? Isn't that how life is, that lots of things are beyond us and we can never know people's true motives? No, put it this way- an action, a decision is often caused, determined by several things at once, and it's not possible to attribute everything to a single motive. As the story is written from a 1st-person point of view, unlike the 2 previous works, we're even more restricted. 
I'm not content, though. Without revealing the ending, I will only write that in my reading, Grace is innocent and a tragic figure, her love for her fiancé Mr Potterfield has died out, Mrs Beck and the whole bunch of gossipers on the ship should be hung and the narrator is worse than them all and worse than Winterbourne. I don't think all the confiding and crying she does before Mrs Nettlepoint is acting- the marriage is no more than a fulfilment of a promise, a performance of a duty, and I reckon her final act is prompted by despair, misunderstanding, fear for the future, fear of scandal and people's interferences, forlornness, disappointment in Jasper and his sudden aloofness... 
I'm too sick at the moment to write more and back it up with arguments and examples from the text. 
What do you think about "The Patagonia"? 

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