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Ann



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1112


Location: Worcestershire

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 5:00 pm    Post subject: Henry James  Reply with quote

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.


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
Posts: 3864


Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 6:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.


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Evie
Site Admin


Joined: 24 Oct 2008
Posts: 3569


Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 6:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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!


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Marita



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 511


Location: Flanders, Belgium

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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


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Ann



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1112


Location: Worcestershire

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
Posts: 3569


Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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...


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2010 4:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
Posts: 3864


Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2010 7:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3351


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2010 9:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Try 'The Aspern Papers'.


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Marita



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 511


Location: Flanders, Belgium

PostPosted: Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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



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