All posts by LouKo

Blue Melanctha and Stein’s repetitive style

“Sometimes the thought of how all her world was made, filled the complex, desiring Melanctha with despair. She wondered, often, how she could go on living when she was so blue.” (p48)

“Melanctha wondered often how it was she did not kill herself when she was so blue. Often she thought this would be really the best way for her to do.” (p50)

Gertrude Stein, Melanctha, in Three Lives, Dover Thrift Editions, 1994

The story is told by a third-person omniscient narrator, so the reader gets suggestive descriptions of the characters’ personalities and thoughts. From the very beginning, Stein uses repetition as a significant feature of the language in Melanctha, whether it be in the narrative parts or in the dialogues. She establishes a detailed description of the characters and especially of Melanctha’s, using repetition, as if she was trying to build a specific image of each of the characters, in the reader’s conscience.

The Beast in the Jungle

He had justified his fear and achieved his fate ; he had failed, with the last exactitude, of all he was to fail of, and a moan now rose to his lips as he remembered she had prayed he mightn’t know. This horror of waking – this was knowledge, knowledge under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze. Through them, none the less, he tried to fix it and hold it ; he kept it there before him so that he might feel the pain. That at least, belated and bitter, had something of the taste of life. But the bitterness suddenly sickened him, and it was as if, horribly, he saw in the truth, in the cruelty of his image, what had been appointed and done. He saw the Jungle of his life and saw the lurking Beast ; then, while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous, for the leap that was to settle him. His eyes darkened – it was close ; and, instinctively turning, in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, on his face, on the tomb.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle”, in Major Stories & Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999), p489-490


He came back the next day, but she was then unable to see him, and as it was literally the first time this had occurred in the long stretch of their acquaintance he turned away, defeated and sore, almost angry – or feeling at least that such a break in their custom was really the beginning of the end – and wandered alone with his thoughts, especially with one of them that he was unable to keep down. She was dying, and he would lose her ; she was dying, and his life would end. He stopped in the park, into which he had passed, and stared before him at his recurrent doubt. Away from her the doubt pressed again ; in her presence he had believed her, but as he felt his forlornness he threw himself into the explanation that, nearest at hand, had  most of a miserable warmth for him and least of a cold torment. She had deceived him to save him – to put him off with something in which he should be able to rest. What could the thing that was to happen to him be, after all, but just this thing that had begun to happen ? Her dying, her death, his consequent solitude – that was what he had figured as the beast in the jungle, that was what had been in the lap of the gods.

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle”, in Major Stories & Essays, Library of America College Editions, 1999), p477

Symbolism, an outgrowth from Romanticism

The later movement (…) was an antidote to nineteenth-century Naturalism, as the earlier had been an antidote to the neo-classicism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries : Symbolism corresponds to Romanticism, and is in fact an outgrowth from it. But whereas it was characteristic of the Romantics to seek experience for its own sake, to try the possibilities of life ; the Symbolists (…) carry on their experimentation in the field of literature alone ; and though they, too, are essentially explorers, explore only the possibilities of imagination and thought. And whereas the Romantic, in his individualism, had usually revolted against or defied that Society with which he felt himself at odds, the Symbolist has detached himself in indifference to it : he will cultivate his unique personal sensibility even beyond the point to which the Romantics did, but he will not assert his individual will – he will end by shifting the field of literature altogether (…) from an objective to a subjective world, form an experience shared with society to an experience savored in solitude.

Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s castle,  A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p17

Symbolist school & English literature

It is difficult to understand certain of the things which have been happening lately in English literature without some knowledge of the Symbolist school. I believe, in fact, that if English and American criticism have sometimes shown themselves at a loss when confronted with the work of certain recent writers, it is partly because the work of these writers is the result of a literary revolution which occurred outside English literature. The case of the Romantic Movement was different : Wordsworth’s prefaces were English manifestoes ; Lockhart’s attack on Keats and Byron’s attack on Jeffrey were blows struck in an English civil war. But in spite of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were launched by an impulse somewhat similar to that of the Symbolists, and in spite of the English “aesthetics” and “decadents”, who for the most part imitated the French without very much originality, the battle of Symbolism has never been properly fought out in English. So that whereas French writers like Valery and Proust, who have grown out of the Symbolist movement, are well understood and appreciated by French literary criticism, the critics of the English-speaking countries have often seemed not to know how to deal with writers such as Eliot and Joyce. Even when these writers have brought back into English qualities which are natural to it and resources which it originally possessed, these elements have returned by way of France and have taken on the complexion of the French mind – critical, philosophical, much occupied with aesthetic theory and tending always to aim self-consciously at particular effects and to study scrupulously appropriate means.

Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s Castle, A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p20

Poetry as a language

To intimate things rather than state them plainly was thus one of the primary aims of Symbolism. (…) The assumptions which underlay Symbolism lead us to formulate some such doctrine as the following : Every feeling or sensation we have, every moment of consciousness, is different from every other ; and it is, in consequence, impossible to render our sensations as we actually experience them through the conventional and universal language of ordinary literature. Each poet has his unique personality ; each of his moments has its special tone, its special combination of elements. And it is the poet’s task to find, to invent, the special language which will alone be capable of expressing his personality and feelings. Such a language must make use of symbols : what is so special, so fleeting and so vague cannot be conveyed by direct statement or description, but only by a succession of words, of images, which will serve to suggest it to the reader.

(…) And Symbolism may be defined as an attempt by carefully studied means – a complicated association of ideas represented by a medley of metaphors – to communicate unique personal feelings.

Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s Castle, A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p18-19

Symbolism in poetry

It was the tendency of Symbolism (…) to make poetry even more a matter of the sensations and emotions of the individual than had been the case with Romanticism : (…) making poetry so much a private concern of the poet’s that it turned out to be incommunicable to the reader.

Edmund Wilson, in A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p17

Avant-garde movement

The European avant-garde movements can be defined as an attack on the status of art in bourgeois society. What is negated is not an earlier form of art but art as an institution that is unassociated with the life praxis of men. When the avant-gardistes demand that art become practical once again, they do not mean that the contents of works of art should be socially significant. The demand is not raised at the level of the contents of individual works. Rather, it directs itself to the way art functions in society, a process that does as much to determine the effect that works have as does the particular content.


Peter Bürger, “Theory of the Avant-Garde”, in Theory and History of Literature, Volume 4, University of Minnesota Press, p49


There is one point at which the moral sense and the artistic sense lie very near together ; that is in the light of the very obvious truth that the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer. In proportion as that intelligence is fine will the novel, the picture, the statue partake of the substance of beauty and truth.

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”, in Major Stories & Essays, Library of America College Editions, p592