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Ann

Henry James

A while ago some of you, probably in one of our different incarnations, read some Henry James as a project. I always meant to join in but my road to hell is well paved over many times so it never happened. However I've been slowly getting through Portarit of a Lady this year and wondered if any of you know if there is an archive somewhere of our discussions about him? I would be very interested to read what those who have read him thought of his books - and this one in particular.
TheRejectAmidHair

Hello Ann, a group of us did a group read of The Golden Bowl back in the BBC days, and if you have a few hours(!) to trawl through the BBC messageboard archives (no search facility, naturally) you should find it. I don't remember doing a group read on any of his other novels.

I am normally a great fan of Henry James, but The Golden Bowl did prove a bit too much for me - although I do know there are others (Evie, County Lady) who loved it.

James' prose became ever more intricate, and his later work require immense concentration. That in itself is not really a problem - one just has to read slowly & carefully, that's all. What makes his work particularly difficult is his intense focus on small subtleties and nuances of thought and of perception; and, on top of that, an elliptic narrative style, where nothing is ever stated explicitly, and everything merely hinted at. The point is to capture those thoughts and feelings and perceptions that are too vaguely defined to be grasped in their entirety, and he certainly was a master at that. The downside can be a certain sense of claustrophobia - and I certainly felt that when reading The Golden Bowl.

James seemed particularly concerned with the ambiguity of human motivation; with developing perceptions; with trust and betrayal; and with the power people seek, consciously or otherwise, to exert upon each other. The recurring pattern in James' fiction is that of two people struggling with each other to exert power over a third. This is particularly noticeable in, sat, The Bostonians, The Aspern Papers (where the narrator and the old lady - who is unseen for most of the novel - struggle with each other effectively to possess the memory of a man who is dead), The Spoils of Poynton, The Turn of the Screw (where the governess is locked in struggle with the ghosts to possess the children); The Wings of the Dove, etc etc. In The Golden Bowl, there is a quartet of characters, any two of whom are struggling to exert power over someone else in that quartet. Many readers find James' novels a bit too intricately designed, with the patterns too symmetrical.

I am currently reading one of his later works, The Awkward Age, and am, frankly, struggling with it. In the mid 1890s, James, influenced by Ibsen, tried to write plays: it was a spectacular failure, and even now, his play - Guy Domville - is not even in print. So I think he set out to get his own, as it were, by writing a novel in the form of a play. In The Awkward Age, everything is conveyed through dialogue, with the narrative voice doing little more than providing, as it were, stage directions. I am frankly not convinced; James was, without doubt, a great novelist, but he did not have the talents required for a dramatist. As I read, I keep wishing for James to describe what is going on in these characters' minds, as these characters' dialogue is simply not adequate to give us a proper understanding of them. I am some half way through this, and, for the first time in a James novel, I am finding it difficult to take an interest in the characters. If it carries on like this, I may well have to abandon it. James the novelist I love, but James the Dramatist I don't.

The Portrait of a Lady seems to me a terrific novel about choice, betrayal, and responsibility. My own personal favourite, if I had to choose, would be The Ambassadors.
Evie

We did a group read of The Ambassadors too, but not of Portrait of a Lady.  (And Melanie D loved The Golden Bowl too - it's just you who is odd, Reject!   Wink )

I read Portrait in my late teens, and loved it, but have not read it since - it was the first James novel I read, and I initially struggled with the more complex writing, but eventually passed through the veil!  It's too long since I read Portrait to be of much use to you, Ann, I'm sorry!
Marita

Hello Ann,

These are the links to the discussions on The Golden Bowl on the BBC board

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbarts/F...ad=3844198&skip=0&show=20

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbarts/F...ad=3844198&skip=0&show=20

Marita
Ann

Thank you very much. I appreciated your comments, Himadri, which were thoughtful and interesting. I chose Portrait of a Lady, Evie, because I'd heard it was the most accessable and I've found it more readable than I feared.
Marita many thanks for doing all the research for me.  Embarassed I shall enjoy reading from the old site. I very proud of those of us who have stayed the course and kept up the book discussions but it is always poignant to read threads from those from the past incarnation of the board.
Evie

I realise my post wasn't entirely clear - by 'more complex writing', I meant in the later novels, having found Portrait of a Lady and later Washington Square very accessible.

It is great to read through our old BBC discussions from time to time!  We have been together for about 7 years now, some of us...
Castorboy

Hi Ann. One of the BBC links has some discussion on the opening chapter of The Portrait of a Lady. It is on http://bbc.co.uk/dna/mbarts/F2234234?thread=976816
TheRejectAmidHair

Thanks, Marita & Castorboy. How do you find the relevant threads on the BBC site so quickly?
Mikeharvey

Try 'The Aspern Papers'.
Marita

Finding those pages is easy for me, Himadri. I archived pages I was interested in when the BBC board closed and did the same with the MSN board. The latter have to be put in a word document as there is no actual link to them anymore.  

Marita
Marita

This was a discussion on Henry James on the previous incarnation of the board. Not much on Portrait of a Lady though. This includes SPOILERS on other writing by Henry James

Message 1 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935  (Original Message)                     Sent: 12/23/2007 1:43 PM
Yesterday I read, in two sittings, and totally absorbed, Henry James' "The Aspern Papers" (1888) For those who haven't read it - this long short story/novella (approx 100 pages) is told in the first-person by a literary sleuth trying to obtain access to documents belonging to the late poet, Jeffrey Aspern.  They are believed to be in the possession of Juliana Bordereau, an elderly recluse living in a rambling palazzo in Venice, with her not-so-young niece. Many years before Juliana had been the lover of Aspern, and the subject of his poetry.  How the protagonist worms his way into the house as a paying guest and into the confidence of the niece in order to gain access to the papers is totally enthralling, full of marvellous moments, not least the scene when the old lady discovers our hero rummaging for the papers in her bureau at night.  Unlike some of James' later stories and novels, which can be hard work, this one is clarity itself. It's full of moral ambiguities, fascinating and involved relationships, and delicately posed dilemmas.  Has posterity any right to to ransack the private lives of famous literary figures?  And to what lengths might one go to gain such a prize? According to Leon Edel in his splendid concise reworking of his 5 volume Life of Henry James, James got the idea from hearing that Byron's lover, Claire Clairmont, in possession of Byron and Shelley papers, had been the victim of just such a subterfuge. One, Silsbee, had gained access to her house in Florence, where she lived with an elderly niece. This niece had agreed to give him the papers if he married her. James wrote this story while living with Fenimore Woolson (relative of James Fenimore Cooper) in Venice, and he describes the place marvellously. I enjoyed this book absolutely. A deeply satisfying read

Message 2 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935                     Sent: 12/24/2007 12:49 PM
Read Henry James ghost story "Sir Edmund Orme". I didn't find it especially spine-tingling, but the manifestation, and the reasons for its appearance, are very Jamesian and original.  As one might expect the writing is superb

Message 3 of 19 in Discussion
From:   Evie_forever                    Sent: 12/24/2007 4:50 PM
Hello Mike. Having recently been to Venice, I was thinking I should read The Aspern Papers. I am a late convert to Henry James - I used to find him too much like hard work, apart from enjoying Portrait of a Lady very much in my late teens/early twenties, but then on the old board we read Turn of the Screw and then both The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl as group reads. I struggled with The Ambassadors, but loved The Turn of the Screw, and then with The Golden Bowl I finally cracked Henry's style, and fell in love. Now the prose I used to find inaccessible seems magical - there were times when I still felt I was reading through a veil, but by giving it enough time and allowing myself to become absorbed in it, I found it exhilarating. I must read more - thanks very much for your review of The Aspern Papers.

Message 4 of 19 in Discussion
From:   county_lady2                    Sent: 12/24/2007 5:07 PM
Evie me too, I definitely want to read The Aspern Papers after Mike's review and find a biography, plus I want to re-read David Lodge's 'Author, Author' which made me feel really close to Henry James.

Message 5 of 19 in Discussion
From:   LatinaMagistra                    Sent: 12/25/2007 3:54 AM
Mike Harvey, yes thanks for that post.  I have wanted to read this novella, too.  I have only read James's travel diaries in Italy and Turn of the Screw, but I do like his style.  I need a reading journal in which I list all the things I intend to read, rather than what I have read.  Maybe that way I can remember the titles of all these wonderful suggestions!

Message 6 of 19 in Discussion
From:   bookfreak0                    Sent: 12/25/2007 9:17 AM
A Reading Journal is a good idea, Latina, I think I'll start one too.   I have The Aspern Papers on my TBR shelf, along with Daisy Miller.   A journal would not only remind me of books well-reviewed on this board, but would also help me to prioritise contents of the ever-swelling TBRs

Message 7 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935                    Sent: 12/25/2007 12:39 PM
I started a Book Journal in March 2004. It's now about two hundred pages of script. At first it was mainly comments on books I'd read, but as it developed I started to put in poems I liked, extracts from books and pictures of writers etc.from the internet.  I also vary the font style and colour.  I print it off from Microsoft Word about every ten pages or so on varying colours of paper.I originally started it because I tended to forget what I'd read.  It's now quite an impressive folder and it's fascinating to browse through.  It's important to keep it up to date and to add new stuff as soon as you've finished something otherwise it can become a burdensome chore instead of a pleasure.   I always put the book I've just read next to my keyboard as soon as I've finished it, as a reminder to enter it in the journal next time I switch on my PC.

Message 8 of 19 in Discussion
From:   LatinaMagistra                    Sent: 12/26/2007 6:21 AM
Mike Harvey, cool, very cool.  Is that 200 pages in one journal or several?  Because I have stacks of notebooks and I can just see that getting way out of hand, but I like the idea very much.

Message 9 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935                    Sent: 12/31/2007 12:07 PM
So far it's one A4 folder, but I'm ready to start a new one, it being a New Year and all that.

Message 10 of 19 in Discussion
From:   HeHireDramaticJet                    Sent: 1/2/2008 9:04 PM
Isn't it curious how certain themes keep re-appearing in different guises in a writer's work? One motif I find in virtually recurring in James is this idea of two people fighting for possession of a third. We get it very explicitly in something like The Bostonians, say; and in The Golden Bowl, we have complete symmetry: there are four characters, any two of whom are fighting for possession of the third. In The Turn of the Screw, the governess is fighting the ghosts (real or imagined) for possession of the children; and in The Aspern papers, the narrator and Juliana are fighting for the possession of a man who is dead.

Thanks for that review, Mike. The Aspern Papers is among the finest of all short novels. I especially love that final chapter, where the moral depths to which the narrator is prepared to sink are revealed.

Message 11 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935                    Sent: 1/17/2008 1:22 PM
I read Henry James story "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" written when he was in his twenties and not what one might call very Jamesian. It's about the rivalry of two sisters for the same man.  But it bears such a resemblance to aspects of Elizabeth Bowen's "Hand in Glove" that I'm convinced she must have read James' story, and was either paying homage, or unconsciously plagiarising certain elements, especially the climax. Anyone read both these tales and could comment?

Message 12 of 19 in Discussion
From:   HeHireDramaticJet                    Sent: 1/17/2008 9:31 PM
I have read the Elizabeth Bowen's story, but not the Henry James. I am sure Bowen would have had the James story in mind. In the introduction to Bowen's Collected Stories, Angus Wilson compares her to Henry James, and finds strong parallels. I'll try to dig up the James story this weekend.

Message 13 of 19 in Discussion
From:   DoggoneScousedog                    Sent: 1/24/2008 2:40 PM
Hi Mike.  I enjoyed The Aspern Papers nearly as much as Turn of the Screw.  The psychological sparring between the characters was enthralling.  From what I've read of James it amazes me how interesting his characters are without them really doing very much.

Message 14 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935                    Sent: 5/11/2008 12:52 PM
Just read Henry James' "What Maisie Knew" (1897) from his so-called middle-period, before he started dictating and became perhaps rather prolix. It's about Maisie, the young daughter of Beale and Ida Farange, who get divorced in the first chapter. The book tells us how Maisie copes with this event and its ramifications.  At first she spends six months with each and with various governesses, notably Mrs Wix, with whom, although not a very good governess, she gets on very well and who is a rock in all the turmoil. Quite soon her parents find new partners which makes things more complicated. Then James turns the screw and has the father's new wife and the mother's new husband begin a relationship. How Maisie reacts to, and copes with, these changing relationships is the meat of the novel.  The book is highly sophisticated, witty and knowing.  James lets us experience the cavortings of the adult world through the eyes and thoughts of innocent Maisie, who is constantly surprised and puzzled by the changes of perspective and attitude she is compelled to make. However, her moral sense, (at one point she is accused by Mrs Wix of not having one) is relatively unsullied by the world. It guides her through what happens, up to the brilliant last chapter, when she makes her final choice about whom she wants to live with.  It's a difficult book to summarise, much of it is in conversation, and a great deal in Maisie's mind, filtered through the mind of HJ. I enjoyed this book very much, although sometimes James' style makes it harder work than perhaps it ought to be. But the journey's worth it.  You trace your way through several elaborate clauses which eventually reveal sharp, diamond-like observations. Maisie is a fascinating character, but you ask yourself was there ever such a knowing and perceptive child in literature?  She reminded me of Alice in Wonderland - or a seven-year old HJ in a frock.  I loved the character of the rather dowdy governess, Mrs Wix, who grows in stature throughout the book, and becomes a moral yardstick. I suspect James fell in love with her character. I'd love to see a film or TV adaptation with say, Miriam Margolies as Mrs Wix. Now who could play Sir Claude, Maisie's stepfather, with whom everyone including Mrs Wix and the reader falls in love.

Message 15 of 19 in Discussion
From:   HeHireDramaticJet                    Sent: 5/11/2008 2:20 PM
James, in the mid-90s, had wanted to be a dramatist, but he came back to writing fiction after his play flopped on opening night. What Maisie Knew is one of the books he wrote after his failed attempt to become a dramatist, so it is perhaps not too surprising to see dialogue playing such a major part here. I have not seen the play by James that flopped (Guy Domville) and am not even sure whether it's still in print, but judging by his fiction, I get the impression that Jamesian dialogue, marvellous though it is, needs that authorial voice to allow the reader to appreciate its various complexitites and intricacies: Jamesian dialogue cannot, as it were, "speak for itself".

What Maisie Knew seems to display all of James' particular preoccupations - the extent of human perceptions, how these perceptions develop; the power characters seek to exercise over each other; the desire to exercise this power, the various subtle motives behind these desires, and the ambiguities underpinning these motives; and so on. Nothing is ever quite what it appears on the surface. Even Mrs Wix, I think, is not quite so straight-forward as she may appear: her desire to "possess" Maisie is not, perhaps, entirely altruistic either - she needs, I think, to demonstrate her self-perceived moral superiority over Maisie's parents. (There are similar ambiguities about the Governess' desire to "save" the children in The Turn of the Screw.)

James is a fascinating author, but I must admit that I do often find his late writing somewhat wearying. For all its many qualities, I can't say I have any overwhelming desire to revisit What Maisie Knew.

Message 16 of 19 in Discussion
From:   LatinaMagistra                    Sent: 5/11/2008 4:49 PM
The Irish Times of April 12th (we are a little bit behind here) had a great review of James's Washington Square.  I can't remember if you mentioned it or not.  The heroine of the novel is Catherine, the 2nd child and homely daughter of a perfectionist doctor whose wife dies very shortly after the baby of the wrong sex is born (he had had a perfect little son who died as a toddler).  It sounds fascinating and the reviewer was impressed.  Have you read it, Mike?

Message 17 of 19 in Discussion
From:   MikeHarvey1935                    Sent: 5/17/2008 12:07 PM
Yes, I have read "Washington Square" but so long ago it's a dim and distant memory. It's about time I re-read it.  However, I have seen the very good stage adaptation called "The Heiress" twice.  There's also a very good film with the same title. It's ironic that James, who so longed for success as a playwright and never made it as one, has generally been succesfully adapted into other mediums (media?). There have been several stage adaptations of "The Turn of the Screw". The first "The Innocents" which I saw years ago with Flora Robson was outstanding, and one of the scariest things I ever saw on the stage.   The film with Deborah Kerr was also excellent.  I also remember a fine stage version of "The Aspern Papers" with Michael Redgrave (who had adapted it), Flora Robson (again) and Beatrix Lehmann.  I have also collected one of James' own plays "The High Bid" at the old Mermaid Theatre with Fenella Fielding.  There have been film versions of "The Wings of the Dove", "The Golden Bowl" and "The Bostonians". Probably others.  I have even seen a musical based on "The Ambassadors" which starred Howard Keel and Danielle Darrieux. There have been TV adaptations of "The Portrait of a Lady" and "The Wings of the Dove". But I have never managed to collect James' "Guy Domville" which has gone down in theatrical history as one of the worst First Nights ever.  I have a copy of James collected plays in a one-volume collected edition, now out-of-print, but probably available second-hand.  The Library of America keep in print an exhaustive, and exhausting, list of James including practically everything he ever wrote including the complete short stories, criticism, travel writing - but not the plays.  Even posterity hates James the playwright. There are two excellent novels about James. "Author Author!" by David Lodge and "The Master" by Colm Toibin

Message 18 of 19 in Discussion
From:   LatinaMagistra                    Sent: 5/17/2008 2:59 PM
Perhaps he is just an example of a man who was before his time.  If we could live long enough, we might all see our ideas come to fruition and validation!

Message 19 of 19 in Discussion
From:   HeHireDramaticJet                    Sent: 5/17/2008 6:27 PM
Hello Mike, Henry James certainly had very good dramatic instincts, but there's a world of difference between creating good drama in a prose narrative (where the author can describe the internal workings of the characters' minds) and creating prose drama on the stage, where the author is restricted only to what the characters say. James was clearly a master with the former, but not, I think, with the latter. I don't know if you tried The Awkward Age: there, many scenes are depicted as if they were scenes in a play, and I don't think they work at all. James created far finer drama when he wrote novels as novels, i.e. with authorial comment.

I felt the same way when I recently read Conrad's short story "Tomorrow". The latter part of the story is presented as if it were a scene in a play, and while Conrad's dramatic instincts are generally good, here the drama seemed creaky. It's curious that two such accomplished writers, both of whom had sound dramatic instincts when it came to prose fiction, should fail so badly with stage drama.

However, as you say, James' works can be very effective when adapted well. I though WIlliam Wyler's film version of Washington Square (The Heiress, with Olivia de Haviland, Ralph Richardson and Montgomery Clift) was a fine piece of drama, and The Innocents (Jack Clayton's film version of The Turn of the Screw) is among my favourite films.
Castorboy

Marita wrote:
Finding those pages is easy for me, Himadri. I archived pages I was interested in when the BBC board closed and did the same with the MSN board. The latter have to be put in a word document as there is no actual link to them anymore.Marita

I adopted the same method, Marita, so we're just lucky others share our tastes!
Castorboy

Finished The Aspern Papers and I can only agree with all the praise about it.
I doubt James would have anticipated that more than twentyfive years after he wrote Aspern he would be experiencing in life what he had described in art. A distant aunt of John Buchan's wife who was the widow of Byron’s grandson, asked James and Buchan to check in her archives to assess the merits of the quarrel between Byron and his wife.
She thought that those particular papers might be destroyed by some successor and she wanted a statement of their contents deposited in the British Museum. So, during a summer weekend, they waded through masses of ancient indecency, and duly wrote an opinion. The thing nearly made Buchan sick, but James never turned a hair. His only words for some special vileness were ‘singular’- ‘most curious’ – ‘nauseating, perhaps, but how quite inexpressibly significant.’

I wonder if Buchan was ever tempted to say to James on their return from the country house where the archives were stored, 'Home, James and don't spare the clauses!'
Evie

Very Happy
Castorboy

MikeHarvey's
Quote:
I read Henry James' story The Romance of Certain Old Clothes written when he was in his twenties and not what one might call very Jamesian. It's about the rivalry of two sisters for the same man.  But it bears such a resemblance to aspects of Elizabeth Bowen's Hand in Glove that I'm convinced she must have read James' story, and was either paying homage, or unconsciously plagiarising certain elements, especially the climax. Anyone read both these tales and could comment?

I am not really a fan of unusual tales so the climax was completely unexpected. It is from Volume I which promises two more of a similar kind. I will read them with interest. I know I have read the Bowen story but it is so long ago the details escape me.
Castorboy

In Voume 1 of his tales The Story of a Masterpiece resulted in me reading a 19th century poet for the first time in years. A widower has decided to marry a youger woman and during the courtship he sees a painting which reminds him of his fiancee. The young artist has created his version of the imaginary painting of My Last Duchess as described in the poem by Robert Browning. Unfortunately for the widower it resembles his betrothed and when challenged the artist admits he was in love with the lady two years before. This isn't quite the recurring motif in James' works of two people fighting over a third as identified by Himadri but more the widower trying to reconcile which of the two visions he has of his betrothed is the more desirable – the real person or the far more appealing one shown in the portrait.

I had hoped that by reading the poem I could anticipate where James was heading with this introspective tale. I failed; however it did give me the idea that he was possibly inspired to draw his word portrait of the lady from the poem.
Castorboy

The tales in Volume 1 1864 – 1868 were written when James was in his early twenties and could be typical of a young man's confidence that a happy marriage and abundant money can be  achieved at the same time for either sex. In three tales this happens when the man is rich and the woman poor but beautiful. And yet in other tales when the reverse is postulated the rich women reject the suitors. Is James saying that a wealthy beautiful young woman expects the ideal man of her desires and will settle for nothing else?
He was possibly too critical of women with money and yet he took a great delight in women as objects to be admired; he enjoyed writing about their faces, clothes, manners and deportment. Take these lines as a hint of the admiration he shows throughout:

Among all those other poor girls she seemed to have something of the inviolable strength of a goddess. She wears her artificial rises and dew-drops as if she had gathered them on the mountain-tops instead of buying them in Broadway, She moves with long steps, her dress rustles, and to a man of fancy it's the sound of Diana on the forest-leaves

from A Most Extraordinary Case

Now on to Volume 2 when I need a break from Proust.
TheRejectAmidHair

Castorboy wrote:
Now on to Volume 2 when I need a break from Proust.


Your're taking James as a break from Proust? You mean - when Proust gets too heavy, you're going to Henry James for some light relief?  Very Happy

Now that i think about it, I haven't read muhch early James. Just about everything I have read by James has been from The Portrait of a Lady onwards. I really ought to put that right.
Castorboy

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Your're taking James as a break from Proust? You mean - when Proust gets too heavy, you're going to Henry James for some light relief?  Very Happy

Correct - I never imagined I would say such a unusual comment but James seems so easy to read after the intricate prose of Proust. It is like reading a novelisation of Freud's findings, not that I have read Freud, of course. Maybe it is this translation of Proust which is the answer to the appeal which I am appreciating from the wonderful vocabulary on every page. I am looking forward to a southern winter of literary content!
Castorboy

The Complete Tales of Henry James Volume 3 1873 – 1875 includes what his editor, Leon Edel, calls a personal allegory.
In Benvolio an artistic and pleasure-loving young man, who enjoys both his monk-like cell next to a quiet garden and a sitting room looking out on a large city square, flirts with a Countess and also a penurious young woman, daughter of a philosopher, who is named unsurprisingly Scholastica. He is faced with the choice of comfort, money and prestige with the Countess or having to support his future wife on the earnings of his verses. He chooses the latter – and then finds he cannot write as well as in the past. Edel says that the Countess represents Europe while Scholastica is James' childhood and youthful home of New England. In real life he symbolically chose the Countess and continued his literary career increasingly stimulated by his experiences in Europe.

There is another story, Eugene Pickering, where James poses the question whether a writer will lose his inspiration if he marries and has the routine of a family to manage as well as creating fiction. When a character says that one can't be a great artist without a great passion, the narrator, James, replies he would rather have the art and you can keep the passion.

From the limited knowledge I have of James' life it would seem that though he admired women a great deal he was loath to commit himself to domestic ties. Now back to Volume 2 which has become available at the library.
Castorboy

Of The Complete Tales of Henry James Volume 2 1868 – 1872 there are two which stand out for me. Gabrielle de Bergerac is a drama set during the French revolution. It's one of his rare attempts at historical fiction which unfortunately convinced him that he couldn't be as convincing as Sir Walter Scott and yet I think it works.
As an aside, his autobiography, A Small Boy and Others, describes how, as a schoolboy of fourteen, he had a friend in Boulogne-sur-Mer, the son of the local pastrycook, who had an upturned nose and whose name was Coquelin. In the tale of Gabrielle he uses the name of Coquelin for the hero, and that of Bergerac for the surname of his heroine. By this means he anticipates by about twentyfive years the writing of Edmond Rostand's romantic drama on the life of Cyrano de Bergerac and the casting of the great actor, and his schoolmate, Benoît-Constant Coquelin in the part (According to Wikipedia he made his only film, the duel scene from Cyrano,  with sound recording on phonograph cylinder which is thought to be the first ever made with both color and sound).

The other tale I responded to is called A Passionate Pilgrim about an American who, realising he is dying, makes a nostalgic trip to the aristocratic home of his forbears in England (he has a vague title to the estate). He visits London, Oxford, Hampton Court and the ancestral home in the Malverns before finally expiring. The title of the tale refers, of course, not just to his own journey but acknowledges the original Pilgrim Fathers. I feel this story represents James' love not just of England but of the Old World and its history and culture. It is no surprise that he called his first volume of stories A Passionate Pilgrim when it was published in 1875.
TheRejectAmidHair

Is it the Library of America volumes you are reading?

Were it not that I have too many outstanding reading projects as yet unstarted, I'd be tempted to go through the Henry James stories. I do admire James immensely, buthe has never, for some reason, been quite at the core of my reading - the way, say, Tolstoy or Chekhov or Ibsen have been.
Castorboy

No, Himadri, my copy or rather the library's copy is the 12 volume edition put out by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1965 of all his tales, some of which have never before appeared in Britain. The texts are from the original magazine publication dates rather than from the revised and rewritten New York Edition.

What made me decide to begin the tales was that I had previously read many reviews stating his novels had quite in-depth studies of people compared to modern novels so therefore it seemed to me easier to become accustomed to his style by reading the shorter pieces. One of the little pleasures of starting with Volume 1 is noticing how much he enjoys the experience of traveling in Europe and then creating characters using that experience.
TheRejectAmidHair

The short fiction I have read of James is every bit as good as his novels. Reading through that body of work would be time well spent.
Castorboy

I found the last half of The Complete Tales of Henry James Volume 4 1876 – 1882 more stimulating than the first half. Each of these particular tales seemed to have that little something that kept me reading to the next one.
An International Episode featured a young American girl who turned down an English title, riches and prestige because the social norms required her to conform to a system which restricted her feminine qualities. As Leon Edel says James has created the first “free” woman of the west long before the suffragettes were organised.

In The Pension Beaurepas, a boarding house in Geneva, the guests include a protective mother, Mrs Church, who is trying to convince her daughter that Europe was best and that the daughter would be disappointed if she ever reached America. The mother’s aim is not helped when Aurora becomes friends with an American family on holiday.

The next tale opens with a passage about memory which reminds me that the names of James and Proust are regularly given when reviewers need to make a quick reference point to serious writing.

They told me that I should find Italy greatly changed; and in seven and twenty years there is room for changes. But to me everything is so perfectly the same that I seem to be living my youth over again; all the forgotten impressions of that enchanting time come back to me. At the  moment they were powerful enough; but they afterwards faded. What in the world became of them?  What ever becomes of such things, in the long intervals of consciousness? Where do they hide themselves away? in what unvisited cupboards and crannies of our being do they preserve themselves? They are like the lines of a letter written in sympathetic ink; hold the letter to the fire for a while and the grateful warmth brings out the invisible words.
The Diary of a Man of Fifty
         
A Bundle of Letters is exactly that – letters from and to expatriates in Europe and America. One has a significance which becomes apparent later. It is from Louis Leverett, an aesthetic young man, writing from Paris to his friend in Boston. In another letter I am sure James is sending himself up ever so gently. He says there are many Americans in Boston who rate the appreciation of culture much higher than the actual production of items of culture!

In the final tale The Point of View there are more letters which include ones written on board a liner bound for New York. Among the correspondents are Mrs Church and Aurora who are to meet the American family, the Rucks, who they met in Geneva and Louis Leverett who has been courting Aurora during long walks on the various decks.

If one was to read the three tales – The Pension Beaurepas, A Bundle of Letters and The Point of View – in succession it would almost be the equivalent of an average length novel dealing with social satire of those visitors to America and Europe who have their values constantly challenged in a perceptive way.
Castorboy

When I read Volume 8 of his Tales I seemed to have no difficulty in coping with the structured sentences whereas with In the Cage I found myself, occasionally, having to read a sentence a number of times to grasp the sense of it. So it seems from my limited knowledge of James that in the six years between the publication of those Tales and In the Cage James has developed a more in depth style of writing. Once I immersed myself in that new expanse of flowing prose all the old joy came flooding back. The heroine is employed as a telegraphist in a post office in an affluent part of London and finds herself dreaming about the lives of the wealthy customers who send the telegrams. Can she improve her social level by marrying into another class when she is already betrothed to a man she met through work? If this is a predictable tale why doesn’t James give her a name? I think the reader is not expected to believe she is a realistic portrait of a lower middle class working woman – she is far too intelligent and aware for that – instead the intention is to focus on her thoughts of bettering herself, finding that there are no boundaries for the imagination and then realizing that in the real working world she will be happier within the constraints of her own class.
 
I read the novella in an American edition which carries a section of comprehensive notes to explain to American readers that Park Lane and Mayfair for instance are places in London and that a slavey is a slang term for a lower-level male servant. However there isn’t a reference to ‘the Pink ‘Un’ which is not just an affectionate comment by his friends on the complexion of one of the male customers but it could also be a reference to the weekly sporting newspaper (The Sporting Times printed on pink pages) that famously gave tips on horses running at race meetings.

There is more literary analysis by Himadri of the novella on http://bigreaders.myfastforum.org/ftopic764-0-asc-390.php
TheRejectAmidHair

Thanks for the thumbs up! I wrote a somewhat longer piece on "In the Cage" here:

http://argumentativeoldgit.wordpr...12/15/in-the-cage-by-henry-james/

Henry James does seem a very favourite writer of yours. He is a good writer to have as a favourite!
Castorboy

It is the layers of interest that make James not just a good writer but an excellent one. There is the life of the telegraphist and her innermost thoughts, the sub-plot of Mrs Jordan and her life and then Mudge the fiancée with his plans for his marriage and the house they would live in.
The strands of narrative combine to add a measure of genteel suspense before the conclusion. All in a short novel which is the ideal length for me when the writing is of such quality.
I will continue with the Tales in sequence but if the library can’t supply Volume 5 soon there is still plenty of variety to choose from – book reviews, newspaper columns, travel pieces and the novels. If I choose the latter I might try The Princess Casamissima for two reasons: it deals with the lives of the middle classes and it deals with the anarchists in late 19th century London, a situation covered, of course, by Conrad with The Secret Agent.
If I decide a long novel would require too much concentration then The Art of Travel, a collection of travel writing, will be my next installment from this versatile and prolific author.
Castorboy

The Art of Travel was not available so I picked English Hours a collection of travel essays as substitute reading. Mainly written in the 1870’s and 80’s in his beautiful, refreshing style they cover well known tourist destinations in England. He developed a routine of visiting a place at a time when there would not be too many people about him. It wasn’t that he disliked crowds; he just wanted to contemplate a scene and think of the past history of the place without the intrusion of distracting noise. He particularly liked to arrive in the afternoon as he believed a place was more picturesque at the end of day and was convinced that great churches and cathedrals had a more solemn and uplifting appeal when viewed by the fading light. Apart from a great deal of walking, even from town to town, and bicycling (driving around in a car with Edith Wharton came later) another part of his routine was to travel on omnibuses and third-class carriages in order to observe people. He liked to gossip along the way with shepherds, waiters, laundresses, as well as fellow passengers. It’s this empathy with the working class that I noticed in his tales and it appears again and again in the essays.
Reflecting on my past reading, I realise now that as I read one of the tales featuring a place in England, France or Italy I should have read the travel essay which featured that location. In some aspects the tales and essays seem to complement each other in a very pleasing manner.
Gladys

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
I am currently reading one of his later works, The Awkward Age, and am, frankly, struggling with it.


I love Henry James, The Golden Bowl in particular, but two of the late novels I really did find impenetrable: The Awkward Age and The Sacred Fount.  His novels have such sublime, yet imponderable, endings.
Castorboy

Welcome to the Board, Gladys. I would like to respond to your comments; unfortunately I have been concentrating on his short stories so I can become familiar with his style before tackling the novels. He certainly makes one think constantly about his wonderful analysis of each character.
Gladys

Castorboy wrote:
...unfortunately I have been concentrating on his short stories so I can become familiar with his style before tackling the novels.
I have only read a few of the short stories and, like you, particularly enjoyed The Aspern Papers.  When you do begin tackling the novels, two of the shortest, easiest and most entertaining reads are The Bostonians (1886) and What Maisie Knew (1897).
TheRejectAmidHair

Gladys wrote:
Castorboy wrote:
...unfortunately I have been concentrating on his short stories so I can become familiar with his style before tackling the novels.
I have only read a few of the short stories and, like you, particularly enjoyed The Aspern Papers.  When you do begin tackling the novels, two of the shortest, easiest and most entertaining reads are The Bostonians (1886) and What Maisie Knew (1897).


Hello Gladys,

I'm afraid I'm a rare visitor round here these days. I used to be very active both on this board and on its predecessors, but since I started on my own blog, the time I spend here has diminished considerably. Over the last year or two, it has been virtually zero.

Like yourself, I am also a great admirer of Henry James. Indeed, I recently wrote on my blog a rather long post on A Portrait of a Lady.

I haven't yet tried The Sacred Fount, but The Awkward Age is the only novel by James I found unable to finish. It seems written almost as if it were a play, with the entire narrative carried along by dialogue only. James, we know, admired Ibsen, and attempted, quite disastrously from all accounts, to write for the stage. I get the feeling that after the failure of his play, he attempted to write a novel as if it were a play: I can't say I was very convinced.

But once he started writing novels as novels again, he wrote, I think, some of his very greatest works - What Maisie Knew, The Turn of the Screw, and his late threesome (I'm tempted to call it a trilogy) The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. I find all these works immensely difficult - partly on account of the knottiness of the prose, but not only for that reason - but also immensely rewarding.

Leavis thought his greatest works we The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians. Indeed, he ranked these, alongside Middlemarch, as the three finest novels in the English language. Perhaps there's not much point in creating league tables of these things, but I really was quite overwhelmed by my recent rereading of The Portrait of a Lady, and feel,I should tackle The Bostonians again. Works such as these are not, after all, to be read only once and then put away - these are books to be lived with.

(Edited to correct a couple of mistypes, and the usual autocorrect tomfoolery)
Gladys

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
But once he started writing novels as novels again, he wrote, I think, some of his Gerry greatest works - What Maisie Knew, The Turn of the Screw, and his late threesome (I'm tempted to call it a trilogy) The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. I find all these works immensely difficult - partly on account of the knottiness of the prose, but not only for that reason - but also immensely rewarding.

I found The Wings of the Dove so engaging and action-packed that it seemed an easy read.  As for The Turn of the Screw, I am inclined to accept James's epithet of potboiler.

Thank you for pointing me to your blog.

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
Leavis thought his greatest works we The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians. Indeed, he ranked these, alongside Middlemarch, as the three finest novels in the English language.
 
I love Middlemarch.  The Bostonians, while an easy and enjoyable read, has a low key but fascinating ending that puzzled me for some weeks.
TheRejectAmidHair

I'm not sure i take James too seriously when he described The Turn of the Screw as a "potboiler": I suppose it does belong to genre fiction - in this case, the supernatural thriller - but there's no reason of course why a work within a particular genre may not have a serious artistic function. It seems to me that James pursues he many of the themes that one may find throughout his works - th power people exert over each other, the desire to "possess" others (in this instance, "possess" in all senses of the word), and the often obscure motives for seeking this. In many ways, Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle seem to me prototypes for Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. I personally take the work as seriously as I do James' other works.

I don't, of course, mean it as a criticism when I describe a work as "difficult". Quite the contrary: I enjoy being engaged with complexity!

Cheers for now, Himadri
Gladys

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
I'm not sure I take James too seriously when he described The Turn of the Screw as a "potboiler": I suppose it does belong to genre fiction - in this case, the supernatural thriller - but there's no reason of course why a work within a particular genre may not have a serious artistic function...I personally take the work as seriously as I do James' other works.

In literature, I look for a denouement that convincingly connects disparate parts in a way that shocks or dazzles: a connection that raises the whole far above the sum of component parts.  I don't see this in The turn of the Screw.  By contrast, it is thoroughly dazzling in Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Golden Bowl (1904).

I see much the same in Dostoevsky - The Idiot (1869) in particular - and in the Australian novelist Patrick White.  But especially so in the plays of Ibsen: The Vikings at Helgeland (1858), Brand (1866), Emperor and Galilean (1873), Ghosts (1881), The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master Builder (1892), Little Eyolf (1894), and When We Dead Awaken (1899).  In all of these, I eventually experience something akin to the light-from-heaven that blinded Saul (later the apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus.  Sometimes this light first shines weeks after finishing the book, and flares even more brightly thereafter.

Not much of a reader for many years, my first revelation came with The Brothers Karamazov and dazzlingly so, much later, with Bronte's Wuthering Heights.  Of course, I do appreciate that everyone reads for their own reasons.

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