Marianne Moore: Poetry

September 21, 2010

“Monkey Puzzle:” Henry James

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:42 pm
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Monkey Puzzle Tree

Among the novels of Henry James that Moore mentions having read is The Princess Casamassima. Here, from the Scribner’s 1908 edition, taken from James’s Preface, page xxii, is the paragraph on which she might have drawn her line in “The Monkey Puzzle,” “these woods in which society’s not knowing is colossal.” [Boldface has been added.]

“Face to face with the idea of Hyacinth’s subterraneous politics and occult affiliations, I recollect perfectly feeling, in short, that I might well be ashamed if, with my advantages— and there wasn’t a street, a corner, an hour, of London that was not an advantage — I should n’t be able to piece together a proper semblance of those things, as indeed a proper semblance of all the odd parts of his life. There was always of course the chance that the propriety might be challenged — challenged by readers of a knowledge greater than mine. Yet knowledge, after all, of what ? My vision of the aspects I more or less fortunately rendered was, exactly, my knowledge. If I made my appearances live, what was this but the utmost one could do with them ? Let me at the same time not deny that, in answer to probable ironic reflexions on the full licence for sketchiness and vagueness and dimness taken indeed by my picture, I had to bethink myself in advance of a defence of my ” artistic position.” Should n’t I find it in the happy contention that the value I wished most to render and the effect I wished most to produce were precisely those of our not knowing, of society’s not knowing, but only guessing and suspecting and trying to ignore, what ” goes on” irreconcileably, subversively, beneath the vast smug surface ? I could n’t deal with that positive quantity for itself— my subject had another too exacting side; but I might perhaps show the social ear as on occasion applied to the ground, or catch some gust of the hot breath that I had at many an hour seemed to see escape and hover. What it all came back to was, no doubt, something like this wisdom—that if you have n’t, for fiction, the root of the matter in you, have n’t the sense of life and the penetrating imagination, you are a fool in the very presence of the revealed and assured; but that if you are so armed you are not really helpless, not without your resource, even before mysteries abysmal.”

Monkey Puzzle Tree Branch

In the novel, Hyacinth Robinson, the son of a French seamstress and an English aristocrat, joins Princess Casamassima and vows to pursue a working-class revolution in London. Just at the point that Hyacinth begins to detach himself from this cause, disillusioned about the “undeserving poor,” he is sent on a secret mission to murder an aristocrat but, instead, takes his own life.

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