31 December 2008

26. Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

What an idiot is John Marcher!

All his life he believes that "something wonderful," to borrow a phrase, is going to happen to him. So for all of his life he waits, watching, wondering when this momentous event will occur.

Eventually he meets and remeets May Bartram, who, for reasons of her own, agrees to watch with him.

So they live as life-long friends, each of them watching the events of Marcher's life, until one day May is diagnosed with a fatal blood disorder. By this time she has also figured out what beast is stalking Marcher. But she won't tell him; he has to figure it out himself. And of course, Marcher, selfish to the last, believes that this, May's fatal disease, is the terrible thing that is to happen to him. And then, when she won't reveal what the horrible secret is, what the beast in the jungle actually is, he believes that that is the terrible thing, that May will die without revealing the secret, and so he'll never know.

And then, sadly, May dies; Marcher is left to watch alone.

I won't reveal the ending, but here we have James's observer character taken to the extreme: all Marcher does is watch.

And he's a first class idiot.

This was a great book with a moving ending. Not just for English majors!

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