Novella: The Beast in the Jungle

by look i have opinions

The Beast in the Jungle, by Henry James

From the collection The Better Sort (1903); also on

18,752 words

I just finished this and what. The. Fuck. I don’t know if that’s a good WTF or a bad one, artistically speaking.

Towards the beginning, I started wondering if this was the book that inspired Thom Gunn’s epigram “Jamesian”: “Their relationship consisted / In discussing if it existed.” Pretty sure it is. The ending I most expected was that the beast would never appear, so I was caught by surprise. In a way, the actual ending could be a happy one, or at least a happier one than it appears. The main character’s throwing himself across the grave is an act of grief, and he doesn’t have the sort of temperament that feigns emotion in hopes of learning to feel it. Which means, I think, that he really does feel his loss, though I don’t know if it’s the loss of his life, his friend, or his lover. That much grief seems proof that he has lived at least for these few moments, if for nothing else.

I seem to pick a lot of books and stories about characters who are defined by their emptiness (or emptiedness, in the case of “Second Person, Present Tense”).