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Watch and Ward

Watch and Ward

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For another meaning of Watch and Ward see:Watchman

Watch and Ward is a short novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

, first published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly
The Atlantic Monthly
The Atlantic is an American magazine founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1857. It was created as a literary and cultural commentary magazine. It quickly achieved a national reputation, which it held for more than a century. It was important for recognizing and publishing new writers and poets,...

in 1871 and later as a book in 1878. This was James' first attempt at a novel, though he virtually disowned the book later in life. James was still in his apprentice stage as a writer, and Watch and Ward shows predictable immaturity. It's an odd, sometimes melodrama
Melodrama
The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

tic tale of how protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

 Roger Lawrence adopts an orphaned twelve-year-old girl, Nora Lambert, and raises her as his eventual bride-to-be. But complications ensue, sometimes in a bizarre manner. James later called Roderick Hudson
Roderick Hudson
Roderick Hudson is a novel by Henry James. Originally published in 1875 as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly, it is a bildungsroman that traces the development of the title character, a sculptor.-Plot summary:...

(1875) his first novel instead of Watch and Ward.

Plot summary


Wealthy and leisured Roger Lawrence adopts twelve-year-old Nora Lambert after her father kills himself in the hotel room next to Lawrence's. Roger had refused financial assistance to the man, and he feels remorse. Nora is not a pretty child but she soon starts to develop, as does Roger's idea of eventually marrying her.

Unfortunately for Roger, once Nora matures into a beautiful young woman, she is attracted to two other men: worthless George Fenton and the somewhat hypocritical
Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie....

 minister, Hubert Lawrence (Roger's cousin). After various adventures Nora winds up in the clutches of Fenton in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, but Roger comes to her rescue. Roger and Nora marry in a conventional happy ending.

Key themes


The melodramatic doings in Watch and Ward probably caused James some embarrassment in later years, and it's easy to see why he disowned the book and spoke of Roderick Hudson
Roderick Hudson
Roderick Hudson is a novel by Henry James. Originally published in 1875 as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly, it is a bildungsroman that traces the development of the title character, a sculptor.-Plot summary:...

as his first novel. Still, many critics have pointed out that melodrama always held a certain fascination for James. Watch and Ward is only a particularly gauche example.

James' technique is primitive at such an early stage of his career. Nora's development into the beautiful swan from the ugly duckling is told rather than shown, and Fenton is a stock villain
Villain
A villain is an "evil" character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist, the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters...

 of the most routine kind. Still, hints of the master-to-be are apparent from the well-described scenes of New York low life and the charm that Nora eventually displays.

A humorous side note is some of the erotic language that James slips into the novel. At one point Roger "caught himself wondering whether, at the worst, a little precursory love-making would do any harm. The ground might be gently tickled to receive his own sowing; the petals of the young girl's nature, playfully forced apart, would leave the golden heart of the flower but the more accessible to his own vertical rays." William James
William James
William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

 and William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells was an American realist author and literary critic. Nicknamed "The Dean of American Letters", he was particularly known for his tenure as editor of the Atlantic Monthly as well as his own writings, including the Christmas story "Christmas Every Day" and the novel The Rise of...

 were uncomfortable with such imagery, though Henry might have enjoyed their uneasiness.

Critical evaluation


Critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

s have almost unanimously agreed with James' disowning of Watch and Ward as his first novel in favor of the infinitely more substantial and impressive Roderick Hudson
Roderick Hudson
Roderick Hudson is a novel by Henry James. Originally published in 1875 as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly, it is a bildungsroman that traces the development of the title character, a sculptor.-Plot summary:...

. While Nora gets kudos as a pleasant enough ingĂ©nue, the other characters are forgettable and the plot is too often silly.

James did revise Watch and Ward for book publication in 1878, so he wasn't completely ashamed of it at that point in his career. But he dropped the novel from his 1883 collective edition and soon seemed to want to forget about it completely.

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