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Zablotny, E. (1979). Allegories of the Inner Life. Psychoanal. Rev., 66(3):383-406.
(1979). Psychoanalytic Review, 66(3):383-406
Allegories of the Inner Life
Elaine Zablotny, Ph.D.
Towards him I made, but he was ware of me
And stole into the covert of the wood.
I, measuring his affections by my own,
Which then most sought where most might not be found,
Being one too many by my weary self,
Pursued my humor, not pursuing his,
And gladly shunned who gladly fled from me.
—Benvolio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Henry James' short story “Benvolio” (1875), as Leon Edel states, is “an unashamed personal allegory” and the only example of its kind in James's fiction.1 Its allegorical explicitness will be useful in exploring James's psychological themes, but before doing so we must consider for a moment the problem of its form. James begins his story with the traditional formula of the fairy tale and then promptly denies that it is a fairy tale:
Once upon a time (as if he had lived in a fairy tale) there was a very interesting young man. This is not a fairy tale, and yet our young man was, in some respects, as pretty a fellow as any fairy prince.8a
What might seem at first glance to be a mere quibble is, in fact, an important statement about the nature of this particular fiction. For James is using the romantic form of the fairy tale for material which belongs essentially to the ironic mode. In his theory of modes Northrop Frye explains that romance deals with a character who is superior to other men because he enjoys magical powers which extend his freedom. The ironic mode, on the other hand, portrays a character who is deprived of ordinary human powers and condemned to a situation of “bondage, frustration, or absurdity.”6 “Benvolio,” as I propose to show, is closer to the irony of a Kafkaesque parable than it is to the romantic spirit of the fairy tale.
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