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 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.