May Bartram, not a victim

In The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James because May Bartram was unwilling or unable to navigate a traditional path she died a premature death. Because John Marcher was unable to act, he lived in a grind of ennui.

In class we discussed Bartram as victim because Marcher kept company with her from the time she was 30 until her premature death. During those years of visits we talked about how he used her for his selfish purposes without committing to marriage. The victimization of Bartram argument has a lot of value, but I’m not completely convinced.

At the beginning of the story, which was set in London, there was a luncheon at Weatherend, where Bartram stayed. That was where she encountered Marcher for the second time. On their first encounter Marcher had shared an intimacy of his feeling of looming great life happening. “She had not lost the thread,” Marcher knew, “but she wouldn’t give it back to him, he saw, without some putting forth of his hand for it” (407). They talked and much of what he said, she contradicted. “He accepted her amendments, he enjoyed her corrections, though the moral of them was, she pointed out, that he really didn’t remember the least thing about her” (498) it is apparent that between Bartram and Marcher hers is the stronger personality. And while some things are learned about Marcher, very little is learned about Bartram, therefore he is more vulnerable than she.

Their first encounter had been ten years prior, when Marcher was 25 and Bartram was 20. The story was published in 1903, and seems contemporaneous. According to the Edwardian Promenade website[1] the average age of marriage for women around that time period was about 26 for men and 25 for women. Considering the average marriage age, Bartram at 20 would have been eager to find a potential husband.

When Marcher encountered her at 30 years old he learns that she had remained single. We know from the bit of history about their first encounter that she had been taken out into society, she “had been at Naples . . with her mother and her brother,” (498). From her introduction at the beginning of the story Marcher said even though she was less fortunate than some of her relations, she lived comfortably at Weatherend in the support of family. At Weatherend she showed people through the house, so she would have been in contact with many people. Why she was not married at the age of 30 is curious. One reason may be that she did not want to be married.

Soon after Marcher and Bartram’s second encounter Bartram’s family supporter died, and after that Bartram no longer lived in Weatherend, but thanks to an inheritance or endowment she was able to move to a small house where she lived independently.

Speaking from common sense, if a single woman in London or most other places, now or at any time, who had the finances to live independently wanted a husband she would have had one. More common sense points to this argument are that she was a handsome woman or Marcher would not have been attracted to her, and from the bits of conversation of Bartram,it is appreciated she is at least reasonably educated and intelligent, and agreeable company.

The years go on and Bartram and Marcher meet in places all over London. He buys her presents he cannot afford and takes her out in the evenings. These are not behaviors of someone disinterested.

Marcher was dependent on Bartram but she preferred independence. As she was dying she told Marcher, “’I would live for you still—if I could’” then “Her eyes closed for a little, as if, withdrawn into herself, she were, for a last time, trying. “But I can’t!” she said as she raised them again to take leave of him” (532). What had she been trying for but to be the woman Marcher wanted, but she couldn’t because she wanted to be true to herself.

Reconciling with her emanate death Marcher reflected, “[I] had lived by her aid, and to leave her behind would be cruelly, damnable to miss her. What could be more overwhelming than that?” (528).

The Beast, aberrant by nature, may strike in any direction. In the above interpretation of the text it was Marcher who was the victim. But, which ever one it was, or if they were both victims, Bartram and Marcher failed to successfully navigate paths to happiness.

 

[1] http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/people/the-marriage-age-1896-1908/

 

 

 

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1 thought on “May Bartram, not a victim”

  1. I like your perspective on the novel. You wrote: “In The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James because May Bartram was unwilling or unable to navigate a traditional path she died a premature death.” I actually didn’t come away with those conclusions, at least not regarding Bartram (linking her untraditional path to premature death), but it does make for a good theory. After reading certain passages in the story, I came away with the belief that they used each other equally.

    We don’t learn much about Bartram, but we don’t learn much about James either, at least not aside from his thoughts, beliefs and fears. The passages on pages 407 and 498 we learn a bit about Bartram’s financial situation, something that is very relevant to the story. It seemed that her financial comfort and stability opened her up to engage in the relationship she’s having with James. She doesn’t need financial stability from a spouse so she was left “open” to be with James despite how limited their relationship is.

    “Speaking from common sense, if a single woman in London or most other places, now or at any time, who had the finances to live independently wanted a husband she would have had one.” That may be true but that leaves me more interested in Bartram, who she is, her background, what she look like, etc. Maybe she doesn’t have the confidence to search for a spouse. Maybe it was more difficult for a woman of means to potentially “step down” and find a husband.
    “Marcher was dependent on Bartram but she preferred independence.” It seemed they both preferred independence to a certain extent, but still desire to be with each other with the limitations they give. It could be a lesson that not everyone desires to be in a fully committed relationship, but a close platonic relationship can work.

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