Wind in the Willows

Charles Butler hannibal at
Tue Jul 15 05:04:19 EDT 2003

> Now, I admit to not having read Turn of the Screw, so I can't speak to
> the analysis.  But if people see connections which DWJ denies between CL
> and TotS, those connections may well lie in the text themselves.
> A psychological critic might say DWJ didn't consciously intend the
> connections, but, having read TotS, she unconciously derived one from
> the other.  A reader response critic might say that DWJ created CL and
> let in loose into a world which contains TotS, so that a common valid
> reading transaction would include that TotS-based connection.  A new
> critic might say it's irrelevant where it comes from, it only matters
> that it's there.  (None of these are my theoretical schools of choice,
> so forgive me if I have very minimalist flawed examples here.)   And a
> postmodernist (that's me) might say that the intertextuality throws
> certain aspects of both books into sharp relief -- even reading
> backwards in time, and seeing TotS under the light of CL's influence --
> and by the way, ooh, shiny!  (I'm sure you can see why this is my school
> of choice.  ;)    )

I take all those points, and generally agree that references to an author's
intention should be made charily, both for New Critical (e.g. Wimsatt and
Beardesley) and for postmodern (e.g. Roland Barthes) reasons. There are
plentiful practical difficulties (e.g. how can we know what the author's
intention was?) and a bunch of theoretical ones, as listed by Deborah. And
generally you can say what you want to say quite easily, without straying
into such contentious territory. (On the other hand, if you *like*
contention, writers like E.D. Hirsch and - from a different perspective -
Ronald Searle, have mounted impressive philosophical defences of intention
in lit crit.)

However.... I do think there are occasions when even the ascription of a
genre already makes implicit claims about an author's intention. If, for
example, I said that CL was a 'ironic parody' of TotS, I should say that I
was making a claim about DWJ's intention - because irony (in this sense, not
as in dramatic irony) is an intentional act rather than a mere patterning of
textual elements.

My curiousity duly piqued, I looked at the essay on CL and TotS to see if it
made any claims about DWJ's intention - rather than simply noting
similarities between the texts. (Actually, it deal with Witch Week and TotS
as well, and is just part of a longer essay mainly devoted to comparing DWJ
and JKR -another tricky question of 'influence', which we can steer clear of
for now!) Mostly it contents itself with noting similarities, but once or
twice seems to go a bit further. DWJ - not just her text - is said to 'draw
on... the psychological thriller, as exemplified by TofS'. In Witch Week,
Miss Hodge 'appears to be a caricature' of James's governess (I should say
that caricature, like irony, is a device that has an implication of
intention 'inbuilt'). Also: in CL, 'Jones suggests an alternative to the
either/or reading of TotS'.

Now, I think that if the author had known that DWJ had not read the James
story, she would probably have framed these sentences rather differently (I
would, anyway). But she could still have made an interesting comparison
between James and Jones (only two letters different, after all!). And in
fact she does.


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