Archive for April 15th, 2019

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April 15, 2019

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Henry James in broad daylight

April 15, 2019

It’s Henry James’s birthday. He wrote long meandering self-interrupting elegant sentences that drove his older brother William right up the wall. In a 1905 letter William complained to his sibling of the latter’s “method of narration by interminable elaboration of suggestive reference (I don’t know what to call it, but you know what I mean)…”

And then he asked Henry: “But why won’t you, just to please Brother, sit down and write a new book, with no twilight or mustiness in the plot, with great vigor and decisiveness in the action, no fencing in the dialogue, no psychological commentaries, and absolute straightness in the style?”
Henry, always gracious in his praise of Older Brother’s books and ideas, declined. In literary circles he’s managed well enough without William’s enthusiastic approval, at least according to those who consider him The Master.

“We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

Why so dark? And in fact, Henry was peripatetic enough for us to suppose that at least some of his best work was due to the time he spent ambling and cycling in daylight. 

In the foyer at Lamb House stood a round table upon which were piled hats, gloves, scarfs, and walking sticks for every possible scenario: golf, walks, rides… In Rye, James struck the right balance between work and leisure. At 3 p.m., he walked its streets. As one guest recalled, James had ”the air of a curate making the rounds of his village.” On first-name terms with the butcher boy and the postman, he also indulged in gossip with Rye society, who welcomed his presence. One dowager objected to his not playing bridge. ”For he really has a very clear mind,” she lamented. He was saving it for the late afternoons, when he returned home to read and revise the morning’s work.

Like an earlier Henry, he too walked to work. And rode.

Image result for henry james bicycling

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