Corpses and the Corpus

  • Andrew Cutting


Readers of James’s novels and tales get to see very few corpses and only rarely witness a moment of death. In only a handful of cases is the moment of a character’s death directly reported by the narrator. Mrs Marden in ‘Sir Edmund Orme’ and Morgan Moreen in ‘The Pupil’ (1891), Ralph Limbert in ‘The Next Time’ (1895), George Stransom in ‘The Altar of the Dead,’ and Miles in ‘The Turn of the Screw’ all fall dead on the spot in the closing lines. The heart suddenly fails. In a few more works, such as Roderick Hudson and The Princess Casamassima, the narrative gives us a fairly direct view of the principal corpse. But even when the fiction does deliver the shock of an apparently direct encounter with death — the narrative seeming to bend the reader’s head to gaze into a character’s lifeless face — this moment is constrained. Our access to the spectacle of death is policed by James’s characteristically urbane prose style and fairly rigorous control over point of view. In many cases, the narrative elaborately denies us sight of the corpse, or even of a ritually substitute body such as the grave, and instead encourages us to peer through multiple layers of suggestion. This effect climaxes in The Wings of the Dove, where the whole text becomes suffused with a death so long anticipated and so pointedly unwitnessed by the reader.


Dead Body Textual Body Death Scene Sexual Perversion Horrible Thing 
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© Andrew Cutting 2005

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  • Andrew Cutting

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