Selected Tales of Henry James
The Portrait of a Lady and The Author of Beltraffio: An Exploration of the Aesthetic in Literature
Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady presents the reader with a novel that uses literary form in an attempt to frame the life of its female protagonist; the very title – ‘Portrait’ – expresses a double meaning, referring both to the representation of someone’s interior character and also a painting, drawing or engraving of the external body. Art pervades both the structure and narrative of the piece, and how it is presented is integral to our understanding of the novel. Through his writing, James considers contrasting views on aesthetics. On the one hand, he appears to reject the notion that art must serve a didactic purpose, but on the other he refuses to align with the notion of ‘art pour l’art’ in his characterisation of the soulless aesthete Osmond. Moreover, writing when traditional art itself was being challenged by the birth of photography, these artistic anxieties are reflected in James’ experimentation with realism – and its limits – as he tries to capture and distill a character whose self-identity revolves around the resistance against being pinned down. Taken alongside The Author of Beltraffio, a short story which embodies this conflict between didacticism and aestheticism, James presents the view that art should represent life as accurately as possible. Yet in doing so he reveals the limitations of art, affecting the genre, perspective and structure of both The Author of Beltraffio and The Portrait of a Lady. Through his writing, James presents the value of art as lying within the accurate portrayal of reality. In the Portrait of a Lady characters are repeatedly described in relation to works of art, for example, protagonist Isabel is referred to early on in the novel by Ralph as “finer than the finest work of art – than a Greek bas-relief, than a great Titian. Than a Gothic cathedral”. Her beauty emphasized by the use of comparative and superlative “finer” and “finest” in relation to both neo-classical and gothic traditions. Moreover, there is already the suggestion that art is unable to completely capture reality: Isabel cannot be pinned down by any aesthetic piece. Likewise, in The Author of Beltraffio Mark Ambient’s sister is casually described by the anonymous narrator as “made up very well as a Rossetti”, metaphorically suggesting that she embodies the Pre-Raphaelite ideal. Yet while his characters may constantly approach life through constant comparison to art, James is careful to critique the projection of artistic values onto reality. It is suggested in his critical piece The Art of Fiction that “the good health of an art which undertakes so immediately to reproduce life must demand that it is perfectly free”[i], the implication being that bad art is that which projects superficial artistic values and structure onto life as opposed to stemming from life itself. Isabel’s artistic romanticizing of the European landscape and Oswald leaves her blind to his machinations, and it is the narrator’s ignorance towards separating Ambient’s literary art from his domestic life that arguably results in the tragic death of his son. Indeed, both protagonists can be accused of artistic solipsism, a fact which is made explicit in the texts themselves; in the early stages of the novel Isabel is accused of living “too much in a world of your own dreams” and Ambient’s home is described as “a palace of art”. Thus both characters are portrayed as portrayed as projecting mind-dependent aesthetic viewpoints onto mind-independent reality. Ultimately James’ artistic philosophy acts as a critique of elements of 19th century Aestheticism, shown in his works through his characterisation of individuals representative of the movement. In The Portrait of a Lady this is seen most clearly in the presentation of antagonists Osmond and Madame Merle. In an early scene with Isabel, Merle claims that selfhood is outwardly rather than inwardly known, stating the self is “one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the books one reads, the company one keeps – these things are all expressive”. If one were to take Merle’s philosophy as gospel, then Mark Ambient’s sister in The Author of Beltraffio would truly be the Pre-Raphaelite muse she attempts to emulate. Instead the narrator sees through her external façade revealing her to be a faux-artist, claiming through cutting repetition “she wished to be looked at, she wished to be married, she wished to be thought original.” Moreover, the artistic failure of Osmond can be put down to his inability to see beauty beyond material goods, or what critic Maurizo Ascari argues is his “sphere of immobility”[ii]. Osmond is unable to appreciate anything outside of “static” objects, and while the interior of his house is “telling of arrangements subtly studied and refinements frankly proclaimed” his interior artistic life is equally empty and inanimate. While James may display a critical approach to ‘art for art’s sake’, his portrayal of moral didacticism is equally, if not more, damning: it is Beatrice’s severe Calvinism in The Author of Beltraffio that prevents her from saving her son. As clarified in The Art of Fiction, James rejects the notion that “English Fiction should have a “conscious moral purpose” in favor of an accurate presentation of reality. Yet while James seems to value art which gives priority to an accurate representation of reality, it could be argued that he falls victim to the same romanticization for which he criticizes his characters. Indeed, he frequently uses houses and settings as externalizations of personalities within the novel; for example, Osmond’s house is described as “the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation”. As a reflection of Osmond’s own controlling persona, Ascari argues that this portrayal “connects the refined Osmond with Gothic villains, turning him into a jailer”[iii]. Moreover, when assessing the realism in the text many critics overlook the supernatural element presented by the ghost of Gardencourt, appearing as “a vague, hovering figure in the vagueness of the room” in the penultimate chapter. Nevertheless, while it may seem as if James undermines his own artistic ethos in his melodrama and presentation of the unreal, the novel’s use of perspective can explain the existence of these artistic elements. Osmond’s home appears a “house of suffocation” precisely because Isabel is projecting her interior life onto the environment, likewise Ambient’s home is described as “a palace of art” because of the narrator’s obsession with the author; the descriptions becoming an exercise in psychology. Rather than losing its realism, through taking the subjective perspectives of his characters and articulating the way they perceive the objective world James is able to use the techniques of gothic and romantic literature without being guilty of artistic solipsism. Good art, to James, is that which presents the “beauty and truth” of the reality of the artist, and likewise “no good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind.” Following this argument even the use of the ghost is justified within a realist narrative, indeed it is this oscillation between the psychological and the fantastical in The Turn of The Screw that saw to its popularity with psychoanalytical readings in the 20th century. Not only does perspective allow for an exploration of the psychology of the characters, it is also used as a way almost of mimicking art itself, while challenging the extent of mimesis. While The Author of Beltraffio restricts the reader to a first-person perspective, in The Portrait of a Lady James dips in and out of the viewpoint of a range of characters through the use of a third person omniscient narrator. Indeed, the introduction of Osmond can be compared to an initial viewing of a painting: “a gentleman was seated in company with a young girl and two good sisters from a religious house”. The use of the common nouns “girl”, “sisters” and “gentleman” places two of the major characters in seemingly static roles, with the narrator himself claiming that the “small group might have been described by a painter as composing well”. There are times in the novel where it also appears that the titular character is literally posing for a portrait, for example “Isabel walked to the other side of the gallery and stood there showing him her charming back, her light slim figure, the length of her white neck as she bent her head, and the density of her dark braids.” Yet Isabel is shown to consistently evade a completion of her portraiture; crucially the onlooker Warburton cannot see that her eyes are “suffused with tears”. James denies perception of Isabel’s emotions to Warburton, foreshadowing the withdrawal of Isabel’s psychology from the reader during the second half of the novel. As the story progresses perspective plays a more structural role, with the succession of elliptical time jumps the reader is left to piece together key events, such as the marriage of Osmond to Isabel. This manipulation of viewpoints has led some critics, such as Alan Nadel, to consider James’s literature to be proto-cinematic, claiming that “cinema is Jamesian – James is cinematic”[iv]. Certainly, he was writing during the emergence of photography as an artistic medium, challenging the purpose of traditional art which was striving to represent reality; even the artist Delaroche is purposed to have declared that “painting is dead”[v]. For an author concerned with art and literature as the presentation of reality – in The Author of Beltraffio Mark Ambient declares “I want to be truer than I’ve ever been … I want to give the impression of life itself” – James was wary of photography. He accused it of being “temporary”, criticizing early photographer Mathew Brady, stating that the medium “tells you everything except the very thing you want to know.”[vi] Critic Edward L. Schwarzschild points out that James saw photography, despite its mimesis, as “shallow, superficial, merely “lifelike,” while the creations of such Europeans as Goethe and Velazquez are ‘life itself’,”[vii] placing both literature and art above that of photography. While James may have espoused a prejudice towards an art form that was still in its infancy, the nature of photography as temporary has been reiterated even by later photographers, with Susan Sontag declaring “life is a movie. Death is a photograph”[viii]. This anxiety towards photography as a representation of a singular, finite moment – a symbolic death – is akin to the anxiety Isabel has, at least in the first half of the novel, towards being intellectually confined and made into a static object. Thus, we can see the withdrawal of Isabel’s perspective in the middle as providing the reader with a symbolic death. We are only provided snapshots as Osmond exerts more control over her personality: “this lady’s intelligence was to be a silver plate, not an earthen one—a plate that he might heap up with ripe fruits, to which it would give a decorative value”. Thus, her portrait becomes more like that of a photograph, an instant, static “lifelike” moment in time. It is only when Isabel begins to question the intentions of her husband that the reader is invited back into her interior life. It could be argued that from this perspective, the open ending is Isabel’s last act of evasion; she refuses to be distilled into any form of portraiture, neither that of a painting or photograph, and this is reflected in the breaking of literary conventions.
Henry James presents a conflicted view of art, critiquing both moral didacticism and the Aesthetic Movement in his short story The Author of Beltraffio in favor of a realistic portrayal of reality to reveal truths of beauty and knowledge. This attempt at portraying life as accurately as possible is reflected in the psychological realism of his novel The Portrait of a Lady. Through accurately representing reality as it appears to the perceiver, James pushes the limits of realism, and at times appears to cross into romantic and gothic territory. Moreover, the birth of photography and its apparent ability to capture and confine the external world in mimetic form reflects and arguably feeds into the narrative of the novel which concerns the attempted portrait of a protagonist who wishes to evade this very confinement. As a result of this paradox, James subverts a typical literary structure in providing the reader with an open ending, an act that he knew would be the “obvious criticism”[ix] of the piece. Thus, through applying a conception of art and aesthetic values to his work, Henry James questions how accurately reality can be represented through literature, a question that would continue to be explored in modernism and 20th century.
Endnotes and References[i] James, Henry. 2015. Partial Portraits. [S.l.]: [Andesite Press]. P75-120 [ii] Ascari, Maurizio (2006). “Three Aesthetes In Profile”. In Henry James Against The Aesthetics Movement, pp38-47. London: McFarland & Company. [iii] Ibid [iv] Nadel, Alan (1998) “Ambassadors from an Imaginary ‘Elsewhere’” Henry James Review 19. pp279-84 [v] Bann, Stephen (1997) Paul Delaroche: History Painted [vi] Schwarzschild, Edward (1996) “Revising Vulnerability: Henry James’s Confrontation with Photography” Texas Studies in Literature and Language Vol: 38. pp51-78 [vii] Ibid [viii] Sontag, Susan (1977) On Photography, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [ix] James, H. (1961). The Notebooks of Henry James, Ed. by FO Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock. Oxford University Press.
Entertaining Dread: the Contrived Aesthetic Experience of Fear in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”
The Turn of the Screw has been read by some analysts as a straightforward ghost story and by others as a psychologically accurate – whether pre-or post-Freudian — portrait of mental illness or repression breaking out. However enjoyable it is to consider Henry James’ short story from any of these or similar points of view, it strikes me as particularly interesting to look at it as a kind of metafiction, a story about storytelling that explores the power of language to create mood or to evoke emotional or psychological responses through the power of suggestion.
In some ways this story and its opening frame are reminiscent of the almost archetypal scenario of children sitting in the dark telling spooky stories. Also, it calls to mind a particular scene in the Wonderworks film adaptation of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. In that scene, the characters Anne Shirley and Diana Berry are alone together in a gloomy wood, and they start reciting to one another all the chilling ghost tales they can recall and talking about how “deliciously frightened” they are. In the novel, Anne confesses to her aunt that “Diana and I just imagined the wood was haunted. All the places around here are so–so–COMMONPLACE. We just got this up for our own amusement. We began it in April. A haunted wood is so very romantic.… Oh, we have imagined the most harrowing things” (Montgomery 229). Similarly, Henry James demonstrates in his Turn of the Screw a keen understanding of the delight that typically imaginative people derive from being scared and, indeed, in scaring themselves.
James’ story is a masterful sort of meta-chiller that works on the imagination of the reader while allowing events recounted by characters within the story to work on the imaginations of other characters, to effects at times obvious and at other times ambiguous. Part of the ambiguity surrounding the story involves whether the governess who narrates her own tale has effectively scared herself with phantasms and other observations that originate in her own mind. Her indirect reference to certain then-contemporary works of Victorian horror or gothic suspense (The Mystery of Udolpho, Jane Eyre) may be a hint from the author about her or about the story in which she finds herself. “Was there a ‘secret’ at Bly—a mystery of Udolpho or an insane, an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?” (James 312). Although the interpretation of the story and the question of its realism are debatable, it seems obvious that James intended, while telling a chilling tale, also to explore the complicity of the imaginative audience member in creating the effect – the pleasurable dread or terror – such tales may convey.
Whether or not these kinds of stories are true is less important than the effectiveness of the storytelling style, whether the narrative elicits the desired response in hearers or readers. Of course, James occasionally uses some fairly heavy-handed means to evoke the edgy mood in The Turn of the Screw, even beginning his story with a discussion about what makes a tale the kind of story that can hold listeners “sufficiently breathless” (James 291), what gives it each successive “turn of the screw” (James 292). Also, the author has his characters offer their own commentaries on the emotional impact of their stories – Douglas refers dramatically to the “dreadfulness” of the account he is leading up to telling, even stating that it is “beyond everything. Nothing that I know touches it,” with respect to its “uncanny ugliness and horror and pain” (ibid).
This is quite a dramatic setup for a story that has yet to be revealed. Such a characterization creates anticipation, primes the reader for a strong response and demands a payoff. It is a bold move on the part of James, since to fail to provide a sufficient emotional payoff could leave the author open to accusations of overstatement or melodramatic superfluity. And speaking of the superfluous, throughout the story there is continual repetition of emotionally evocative pejoratives like dread, horror, queer, insane, corrupt, et cetera, as well as frequent use of exclamation points and italics. The text itself seems emotionally manipulative, bent on an effect, and if the reader is unwilling or unable to go where the text is apparently leading, the effect would certainly be, from an author’s point of view, unfortunate, and the story would likely fail to satisfy.
James leaves the reader with little reason to doubt that the payoff he has set up is coming. However, one of the author’s principle means of manipulation in Turn of the Screw is delayed gratification. There is much hesitation, holding back of details after the insinuation of what is to come, inviting the listeners within the story as well as readers of the story to let their imaginations flow into the gaps. Again, the author is not at all subtle about it; he blatantly points to the technique early on (James 297), in an exchange between Douglas, his secondary–in the ordinal sense–narrator, and one of his listeners.
So far had Douglas presented his picture when someone put a question. “And what did the former governess die of? – of so much respectability?”
Our friend’s answer was prompt. “That will come out. I don’t anticipate.”
“Excuse me – I thought that was just what you are doing.”
Further down the same page, after giving out a few more thin details, Douglas makes an insinuation, a reference to some unforeseen danger in the governess’s story, of which she was unaware at the outset but of which “she did learn. You shall hear tomorrow what she learned.” Again Douglas gives out more sparse information and, as the primary, unnamed narrator states, “with this, [he] made a pause that, for the benefit of the company, moved [him] to throw in” his own titillating guess about what was still to come in the narrative. This prompts Douglas to get up, turn his back on his audience, and stir the fire before going further with his tale – that is, his setup of the governess’s tale.
While I count three main narratives in Turn of the Screw, nested like Babushka dolls, there are technically several more stories within stories in this complex narrative, and even more storytellers mentioned than there are narratives given, rather than summarized or referenced. Notably Douglas begins his allusion to the unnamed governess’s story after at least two other narrators, Griffin and another, have told their own ghost tales to the company, to varying effect. Within Douglas’ story, there is the governess’s tale, in which she speaks of what she learns from Mrs. Grose and, even before that, of being told by her master what he judged to be his own pertinent history: “He told her frankly all his difficulty – that for several applicants the conditions had been prohibitive. They were, somehow, simply afraid. It sounded dull – it sounded strange; and all the more so because of his main condition” (James 297). Meanwhile, Miles, the governess’s male charge, has a number of opportunities in dialogue to tell his story, carefully clipped as it is by his wariness and clouded by the impressions and interpretations of the governess who transcribes it.
All this underscores the likelihood that James is telling a story about storytelling, about the impact of the interplay between text and allusion, reference and repetition, insinuation and inference, hesitation and anticipation, mood and manipulation. With an audience that is willing to be guided — or capable of being mesmerized — and an author who is adept at it, as James is, a story can create impressions, misdirect or focus attention, and evoke particular and highly entertaining effects, dreadful or otherwise. In the case of The Turn of the Screw, the author has given his short story just enough masterfully contrived “turns” to encourage his readers, especially those with the right sort of susceptibility to his techniques, to give an added twist or two to a tale already fraught with delightfully chilling torque.
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels. Signet Classic, New York: 1962.
Montgomery, Lucy Maude. Anne of Green Gables. Bantam, New York: 1981.
The Artist’s Quest: Real Truth Beyond Real Life
The Real Thing was written by Henry James in 1891. According to his notebook entry on February 22, 1891, the idea for the story came in the form of an actual incident divulged by his friend George du Maurier. James juxtaposes an upper-class couple, who have no imagination, with a poor, unrefined girl who has an understanding of the artist’s purpose. The narrator is an artist who draws in black and white for magazines that print short stories. He employs these people as models. For the artist, illustrating stories is a way to make money, not a form of art. This is explained when he says “My ‘illustrations’ were my pot-boilers; I looked to a different branch of art — far and away the most interesting it had always seemed to me — to perpetuate my fame.” In fact, he would prefer to be known as an artist as opposed to an illustrator of stories.James writes “The Real Thing” to validate his theory that art is not an exact copy of life, but a reproduction that goes beyond to reveal the ‘truth’ in reality. The narrator of the story expresses “an innate preference for the represented subject over the real one: the defect of the real one was so apt to be a lack of representation.” When painting his upper-class models, the Major and Mrs. Monarch, he feels forced to make the pictures exact replications of their appearances. The artist describes the paradox of Miss Churm, his regular model: “She was only a freckled cockney, but she could represent everything, from a fine lady to a shepherdess”.Since he draws gentlemen and ladies in his illustrations, the artist initially believes the Monarchs would be good models, as they truly are of the genteel class. In contrast, James characterizes Miss Churm as the archetypal cockney Londoner of his era. As such, she can only imitate the characters she models for. Trouble soon comes in the narrator’s effort to use the Monarchs in more than one story. Drawing Mrs. Monarch, he states, “She was the real thing, but always the same thing.” Mrs. Monarch can only represent a woman of her own class. The artist is unable to divine qualities in the woman that reverberate with those in women of any station other than her own. She contains no truth that surpasses her own limited self. Critic Adam Sonstegard asserts that Henry James did not desire a great deal of information on a subject he proposed to write about, since it would limit the range of his imagination (11). Miss Churm has few distinguishing attributes, which lends her figure to expanded development. The artist is free to expound upon her original form.James acknowledges that not everyone understands an artist’s need for such intellectual freedom. Mrs. Monarch notices that although she and her husband are recognizable in the drawings they modeled for, Miss Churm was hidden. Instead of an inspirational model, idea, or subject being hidden because it is ugly or offensive, it is hidden because it undergoes a metamorphosis that ends with something better. “If [Miss Churm] was lost it was only as the dead who go to heaven are lost-in the gain of an angel the more.” James includes editors and publishers among those who do not understand the meaning of art. They may work with great artists, and even hold sway over the success of an artist’s work, but they do not comprehend what the art is meant to convey. The narrator’s fellow artist and friend, Jack Hawley, describes this sentiment by explaining that the narrator must aspire to the approval of “coloro che sanno.” James reasons that those people who cannot understand the desire of an artist — to find meaning in the mundane — should not be involved in the creative process. The narrator exposes James’ theory in an encounter between his upper-class models, Major and Mrs. Monarch, and his friend Jack Hawley:”He looked at them […] as if they were miles away: they were a compendium of everything he most objected to in the social system of his country. Such people as that, all convention and patent-leather, with ejaculations that stopped conversation, had no business in a studio. A studio was a place to learn to see, and how could you see through a pair of featherbeds?”By attempting to participate in the world of artistry, these types of people inhibit the creative process. The suggestion of something, rather than the thing itself, is preferred for inspiration. This illogicality is unsettling, and in the case of the Monarchs, insulting. That Miss Churm and her colleague, Oronte, should be better esteemed in any situation — even considering the “oddity” of artists — is incomprehensible and unacceptable to them. Artistic standards are “perverse and cruel” to the Monarchs.”The Real Thing” accurately portrays the artistic creative process according to Henry James, a process which is clearly applicable to other areas of artistry as well. Even in photography, which captures a clear, truthful picture, the artist tries to make the audience see something beyond the representation. A writer tells a story that may be about a familiar, everyday event, but endeavors to show meaning and truth about the human condition within the incident. To merely make an exact copy of the person, place, or event would be relatively straightforward. But this is for dabblers and amateurs. A true artist creates something that represents the subject, bu that is not necessarily an image of proportions exactly the same as those of the model. The Monarchs do not understand art as Henry James defines it: a transcendant portrayal of an aspect of life that brings the obvious, the mundane, to a higher plane. Works CitedBradbury, Nicola. “Henry James and the Real Thing: A Modern Reader’s Guide.” The Review of English Studies. August 1996: 47.187. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Gale Research, 2001.Hocks, Richard A. “Psychology-The Real and the Ethical.” Henry James and Pragmatist Thought. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1974. 120-134.James, Henry. “The Real Thing.” In The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 700-718.Munson, Gorham. “The Real Thing: A Parable for Writers of Fiction.” The University of Kansas City Review. Summer 1950: Vol. XIV.4. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism: Excerpts from the Criticism of the Works of Short Fiction Writers. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991. 296-298. “The Real Thing: Overview.” Literature Resource Center. Gale Research: 1999.
A comparison between James’s “The Last of the Valerii” and Mérimé’s “The Venus of Ille”
This essay examines the differences and similarities between two texts: The Venus of Ille and The Last of the Valerii. The first is a French short story written by Prosper Mérimée in 1835 and the second is short story written by Henry James in 1885. The essay will show that although the texts have several differences, they also share several key similarities.
The Venus of Ille is tale of a bronze statue of Venus that comes to life and kills a man on his wedding night. The story was the inspiration for Henry James’s The Last of the Valerii, where a man becomes obsessed with a marble statue of Juno. The former is primarily a supernatural story, since the Venus statue has the power to come to life. The latter is a psychological story, because the Count descends into madness and obsession without anything explicitly paranormal happening. Despite this difference, the statues in both stories are strikingly similar. This essay will demonstrate that although one story is supernatural and the other is primarily psychological, the statues are depicted similarly.
Both statues are of Roman goddesses: the metal statue of The Venus of Ille is of Venus, the goddess of love, and the marble statue of The Last of the Valerii is of Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. Both statues are incredible beautiful. The narrator in the Venus of Ille says the statue has “incredible [and] marvelous beauty” (5), and goes onto say “I never saw anything so beautiful” (5). The Juno statue meanwhile is described as “incomparable” (10), and Martha says, “She’s beautiful, she’s noble, she’s precious” (20). It is the beauty of the statues that ensnares the men in both stories. The beauty of the statue of Juno takes hold of the Count and he spends much of his spare time worshipping. Meanwhile, the Venus statue is the pride of its owner, M. de Peyrechorade, who declares, “I never saw anything so beautiful” (5). Despite his wife wanting to turn it into a bell (3) and it breaking the leg of one of his workers, he keeps the statue.
Both statues are depicted as having an evil quality. The beauty of the Venus statue is matched only by its maliciousness. There are as many descriptions of the statue’s malevolence as there are of its attractiveness: It is described as having “an utter absence of goodness” (5), “something ferocious in her expression” (5), “ill-nature to the point of wickedness” (5) and “disdain, irony, [and] cruelty” (5). All these descriptions are fitting because the statue genuinely is evil. The same cannot be said of the Juno statue, however, which is never explicitly shown as being sentient and therefore cannot be evil. However, Martha says, “I was afraid of her almost from the first” (18). The narrator sees the statue at night and says “the effect was almost terrible” (15). The statue’s effect on the Count is also insidious and sinister, causing him to commit blood sacrifices. Both statues are the cause of misery in the stories. The Venus statue kills its owner’s son, kills crops, and injures a worker. Meanwhile, the Juno statue obsesses the Count, which frustrates his wife and the narrator. The Count completely recovers from his obsession once the statue is reburied.
It is hinted that both statues are alive. While the Venus statue seems to be genuinely be alive and capable of movement, the Juno statue is only ever described as being on the verge of coming alive. The Count’s wife admits that she almost feels “as if she were alive” (20). The statue has a “beauty so expressive could hardly be inanimate” (16), “a sort of conscious pride into her stony mask” (16) and “an almost human look” (7). The narrator says her eyes “seemed to wonder back at us” (7). The statue does move once in the story, although in a dream. The Count dreams “that they had found a wonderful Juno, and that she rose and came and laid her marble hand on mine” (7).
Mérimée’s Venus statue comes to life, whereas James’s Juno statue does not. Despite this difference, the two statues share many similarities, such as their striking beauty, their realistic quality, and their ability to instill fear. They are also the antagonists in their stories. Living statues used elsewhere in popular include the Commendatore statue in the play Don Giovanni which drags the titular character to hell, and the Weeping Angels in the TV show Doctor Who. The use of statues in the James’ and Mérimée’s stories are subtly effective scary entities, and I believe that living statues are underused in popular culture.