The Other House
First edition (UK)
|Country||United Kingdom, United States|
|Publisher||William Heinemann, London
Macmillan Company, New York City
|Media type||Print (Serial)|
|Pages||Heinemann: volume one, 206 pp; volume two, 202
Macmillan: 388 pp
The Other House is a novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in the Illustrated London News in 1896 and then as a book later the same year. Set in England, this book is something of an oddity in the James canon for its plot revolving around a murder. The novel was originally planned as a play called The Promise. James sketched a scenario for the play in 1893, but it didn't interest theater managers. In 1896 James converted the scenario into The Other House for publication in a popular weekly magazine. He converted the novel back into a play in 1909, but it again failed to be produced.
Julia Bream dies after giving birth to her only child, a daughter named Effie. Julia had a horrible stepmother, so she extracts a promise from her husband Tony never to marry again as long as Effie is alive. Several years pass. Julia's old school friend Rose Armiger is in love with Tony, though she is ostensibly engaged to Dennis Vidal. In an effort to overcome the promise Tony made to Julia, Rose drowns little Effie so Tony will be free to remarry.
The crime is discovered but family and friends decide to hush things up. Family physician Dr. Ramage convinces the authorities that Effie died of natural causes, Rose is sent off with Dennis Vidal, and all the people involved become, legally, accessories after the fact to murder...and they get away with it.
Many have speculated that this strange tale of murder and a cover-up was influenced by Ibsen's grimmer plays. There may be something to this idea, because in the 1890s James came to appreciate Ibsen as his plays became known in England.
James seems to have liked the way he dramatized his material in The Other House. In his Notebooks he plans a section of his novel The Ivory Tower "after the manner in which the first book is a prologue in The Other House. Oh, blest Other House, which gives me thus at every step a precedent, a divine little light to walk by..." But James did not include The Other House in the New York Edition of his fiction (1907–1909), one of the few later novels not to make the cut.
With near-unanimity critics have dismissed The Other House for its glaring problems in motivation and credibility. To some extent James may be the victim here of expectations concerning his fiction. Outside of this work, few of his characters murder children. So when Rose Armiger does exactly that, it's so out of line with James' usual material that critics might automatically reject it as unbelievable. But even allowing for such expectations, Rose hardly seems like a driven, semi-insane "bad heroine" out of Ibsen. She comes off like what she is, a well-bred young lady doing something that it's very hard to believe she would do.
For a more favorable view of the novel, see the link to the NYRB introduction in "External links" below. This essay begins by characterizing the book as the unfairly selected "ugly duckling" of the Jamesian canon. The author then blames Leon Edel for the novel's unfortunate status, though other critics (see the referenced books of criticism) have also dismissed The Other House as one of James' most forgettable efforts.
- The Novels of Henry James by Oscar Cargill (New York: Macmillan Co., 1961)
- The Novels of Henry James by Edward Wagenknecht (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983) ISBN 0-8044-2959-6
- The Complete Plays of Henry James edited by Leon Edel (New York: Oxford University Press 1990) ISBN 0-19-504379-0
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