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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 210

which taught Howells in The Rise of Silas Lapham that wisdom demands the strictest economy in sacrifice: Fleda Vetch, though Owen Gereth loves her and not Mona Brigstock, renounces him without lifting a hand, and condemns, along with herself, son and mother and doubtless wife to pain—and all seemingly with James’s approbation. But though in this regard sentimental and immoral, The Spoils of Poynton as regards structure, proportion, texture, style, is accomplished perfection, the result of methods now matured and working upon their materials with absolute competence, without sign of effort or haste.
  It was natural that in imagining the world in its impact upon tender intelligences, Henry James should have made use of children as his focuses of sensation. What Maisie Knew (1897) records the disgusting annals of a “fast” set in London through the mystified innocence of Maisie Farange, whose father and mother, divorced and both married again, toss her back and forth from one to the other in the intervals of incessant infidelity. She sees the outer facts of these obscene menages—joined together, by the way, through the liaison of the step-parents—without comprehending their inner horror. She is like a flower blooming in a filthy pool, by her shy beauty making the contrast a dreadful thing. That contrast is the plot. Charming though Maisie appears in her own right, and ugly as her companions are in theirs, the interest lies essentially in the relations between them and her. The spectator, aware that in time her innocence will sink down and the dirty flood overwhelm her, constantly winces. Still worse horrors, however, threaten in The Turn of the Screw (1898), an almost incomparable short story which,



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