Capture the tag: Fear

I address three posts here, “Industry of Culture” by samuelwhitehorn, “Henry James on Failure” by mmmagc123, and “Vincent’s Failures” by vanessatshionyi.

All these posts are tagged with “fear” though none of them, except arguably the second, deal with the topic at much length directly. Still, I think fear is a hugely important affect when thinking about success and failure, so is worth exploring more deeply.

The post “Vincent’s Failures” draws attention to the apparent fear that Vincent’s family displays once they become aware of his facade. The author argues that this is at least in part because Vincent has not invested in his social capital; his bonds with his children are weak. The children’s fearful reaction happens in the scene where the family as a cohesive unit is threatened. Their fear, then, is connected to Vincent’s overvaluing of capital.

The post “Henry James on Failure” argues that Marcher’s fear is failure itself: “the ultimate failure in life is to live in fear, thus not really living at all.” Because Marcher lives in a state of constant apprehension life passes him by completely.

The post “Industry of Culture” tells an anecdote of complex social ramifications about an interaction between an ostensibly heterosexual and homosexual man, and the difference in the heterosexual man’s behavior when he realizes he is being watched. The homosexual man appears to react with fear: seeming fragile in response to his conversational partner’s sudden shift to masculine performativity.

In each of these examples, fear is a response to power gone awry, power with an element of unpredictability or chaos. Vincent’s family fears him because it as the patriarch he is responsible for their financial and social well being in society, and they depend on his sanity for their wellbeing. A sign of Vincent’s potential insanity is a source of insecurity for the whole family. In the second example, the power over Marcher’s life takes a more abstract form, fate or destiny itself. Its power is overwhelming but the specifics of Marcher’s fate are unpredictable to him, and this torments him and encourages his worry. In the third example, the homosexual man is rendered submissive by an unpredictable shift in behavioral display from a person in a position of relative privilege and power over him.

In these examples, does fear lead to failure or is fear only a sign of impending or potential failure? It seems that it is impossible to extricate the two; to be a failure is to live in fear, to be afraid is to invite failure, or at least see it coming. In these examples and perhaps generally, it is as if the fear is always implied, just under the surface, until triggered by an event as just cause in which case it is activated and betrayed by physiological responses (the look on the children’s faces, Marcher’s begging, the man’s inability to communicate verbally). In Time Out, Vincent’s family reacts with fear to his perceived insanity. But if the fear wasn’t always already implied in the family, Vincent would not have feigned still having a job the entire time that he was out of work. Vincent may in part be motivated to behave insanely in the first place to forestall and repress the expression of fear within the family and within himself. There may be the intuition that to live in fear is the emotional sign of failure, as it is with Marcher. In the third scenario, the gay man’s fear is likewise always already there, easily triggered by the coded and performative behaviors of his conversational partner. This fear is a sign of his failure to exist heteronormativity; the fear and the failure are always there, immediately accessible. In all these examples, fear and failure are inseparable: to be afraid is to be a failure. There is also a similarity in how fear affects relationships in each scenario. Fear keeps father and family estranged from each other (as the referred-to post argues), it keeps Marcher from really knowing or loving Bertram, and it prevents the final pair from having a genuine connection and conversation. Fear, failure, and and a sense of alienation from others are all connected.

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.