The Beast in the Jungle


Henry James

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The Beast in the Jungle Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Henry James's The Beast in the Jungle. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Henry James

Henry James was born to a lecturer and social theorist, and he was the second oldest of five children. Throughout James’s childhood, his family moved back and forth between New York, Rhode Island, Paris, and Geneva. He and his brothers received somewhat haphazard schooling as a result of this constant movement. The James family later settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Henry enrolled at Harvard Law School, though he soon quit. He began to publish stories during the Civil War, and he also began contributing to magazines and journals like The Nation at this time. In 1874 he settled in Italy to write a novel, and then he moved to Europe more permanently in 1875. He first lived in Paris, where he met authors like Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola, and then to London. James’s stories and novels began to reach international success, especially following the publication of The Portrait of a Lady in 1880. James never married, and was certainly attracted to men, although his homosexuality remained hidden from nearly everyone in his life. In the first few years of the twentieth century, James’s “late period,” he published three novels that cemented his legacy: The Wings of the DoveThe Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. After returning to New York in 1905, he began to heavily revise a number of his works and to write literary introductions to them, which are considered exemplary essays in their own right. But despite his critical acclaim, approval from the general public continued to elude him, and he began to be deeply depressed. He recovered and returned to England, living to see the outbreak of World War I, and died in London.
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Historical Context of The Beast in the Jungle

The Beast in the Jungle is thought to be partly inspired by Henry James’s own life. Like his protagonist, John Marcher, James never married, sparking speculation about his neuroses surrounding sex. Even if the novella has no direct relation to James’s biography, its themes of lost love and repression were personal to James; James once wrote about the “essential loneliness of [his] life,” a loneliness John Marcher voluntarily chooses in The Beast in the Jungle. Many have speculated about James’s sexuality, as he was attracted to men during his lifetime. Bearing this in mind, The Beast in the Jungle can be read as a story about a closeted gay man, and many critics, including Eve Sedgwick, have pointed to John Marcher’s final realization as a realization about his sexuality as well as about his wasted life. However, the novella is also thought to have been inspired by James’s (potentially romantic) relationship with longtime friend and novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, who died prior to James, much like The Beast in the Jungle’s May Bartram.

Other Books Related to The Beast in the Jungle

Henry James’s body of work—which includes novels, novellas, short stories, and plays—lies between literary realism and literary modernism. Like many modernist authors, James’s work—including The Beast in the Jungle—focused on internal psychological conflict more than external events, and his most famous works, including The Portrait of a Lady (1881), focus on individual journeys. James’s style was influential during the modernist period, as James heavily influenced modernist authors like Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, who would popularize the stream-of-consciousness narrative. James himself was inspired by realist authors like George Eliot, Ivan Turgenev, Gustave Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac, though James’s own work tended toward the experimental. James often juxtaposed American ideals of freedom with European convention, and while The Beast in the Jungle strays from this tradition, its themes of alienation, isolation, and missed opportunities are reminiscent of James’s larger body of work and can be found in novels like The Ambassadors (1903). James was also famous for his character’s ambiguous motivations and varied levels of understanding, and The Beast in the Jungle’s protagonist, John Marcher, is no exception, as James conceals Marcher’s repressed emotions from the reader.
Key Facts about The Beast in the Jungle
  • Full Title: The Beast in the Jungle
  • Where Written: Rye, Sussex
  • When Published: February 26, 1903
  • Literary Period: Realism and modernism
  • Genre: Novella
  • Setting: London
  • Climax: May Bartram hints at her love for John Marcher and he doesn’t pick up on her hints.
  • Antagonist: John Marcher’s perceived fate serves as the novella’s primary antagonist, but Marcher himself is also an antagonist, since his own passivity causes his doom
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Beast in the Jungle

Early Ambitions. When James was 19 years old, he enrolled at Harvard Law School before dropping out to pursue a career in literature.

Today’s Beast. The final episode of the 2019 Netflix series “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is named after The Beast in the Jungle, though the series itself was inspired by James’s novella The Turn of the Screw.