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"Neatness of Finish!"


In the spring issue [of the Marianne Moore Newsletter], the editors ask whether the expression "neatness of finish" in "An Octopus" came from Henry James. I think it more likely that the origin of this phrase is to be found in William Carlos William's Kora in Hell in Section XXI, 2:


Neatness and finish, the dust out of every corner, you swish from room to room and find all perfect. The house may now be carefully wrapped in brown paper and sent to a publisher. It is a work of art.


The larger context in which this passage occurs also has some interest in connection with the lines in "An Octopus." It is characteristic of MM to have changed the quotation from "neatness and finish" to "neatness of finish!" She had reviewed Williams' Kora in Hell for the magazine Contact in 1921, not long before the time when she wrote the poem.


Laurence Stapleton

Bryn Mawr College


From the Marianne Moore Newsletter, Volume I, Number 2 (Fall 1977).