An affluent womanizer, Tony Bream. The nicest, sweetest girl, Jean Martle. A desperate lover abroad too long in China, Dennis Vidal. The odd Rose Arminger. They all seem like characters from the famed game Clue. In The Other House, Henry James writes an awkward murder mystery vis a vis a novel of manners that begins with some piquant flavor of the supernatural
Hilarious dialogue, telling imagery, and one of the most paranoid and depraved characters in fiction made visualizing this text taking place physically before me easy.
When I picked up a novel with a stunning title like Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not), I expected to encounter a work dredged in corporeal, visceral experience and language. I wanted a novel centered on the function of touch: human interaction, physicality, phenomenology, flesh. I didn't get this in Jose Rizal's incredible text, but I didn't really feel disappointed in not getting what I wanted -- because in some ways I received a more meaningful gift.
Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki is a novel about Japanese masculinity in which Sanshiro, our hero, comes to terms with his role as a college-educated man from the country. Sanshiro is a Modern(ist) hero who develops a heightened sense of self-consciousness as a result of the industrialized and urbane environment of higher education in the city, a confusing confrontation with "unintelligible" Western literary artifacts that seem important in Japanese education, and from his indomitable fear of women.
Woman is almost wholly missing from the Romantic confrontation with the arctic. Where she tries to enter, she is silenced, ineffective. But in this Victorian landscape we witness some permeability in which saving the tainted man is possible through, of course, the sweet truth of a pure, angelic woman. But here, the artic, Dante-esque devil meets his foil and one soul has been saved. The heroic act occurs within the domestic sphere in the safety of the English shrubbery.
In Ballard's The Drought, Ransom is faced with two options: submit to femininity or become a shadow. He apparently makes the right decision for the future of humanity. There are, evidently, worse fates than becoming nothing. A man might become womanly. What Ballard has done is found a way to avert what we gender theorists would call the real apocalypse.
What struck me about Mary Shelley's The Last Man was that unlike other apocalyptic protagonists, these heroes seem to learn nothing through their jaunt with the plague, and they have had about 300% more time to figure it out than others.