Saturday, 27 January 2018

Edith Wharton visits Windsor with her friend, Henry James...

I too...

..."felt myself utterly unable to sit through another parenthesis" while trying, for the umpteenth time, to read The Wings of the Dove last year - and I certainly spent a lot of time, having become hopelessly lost in the middle of yet another of the Great Man's page-long paragraphs, gazing at the jumble of words in front of me with a "dazed expression".

Compton Mackenzie once recounted his experience of witnessing Henry James's housekeeper trying - and dismally failing - to get her employer to tell her what he wanted for dinner so she could relay his decision to the butcher's boy waiting outside. It used to be on either the BBC website or YouTube (I know, because I recorded it on a CD for a friend). I can't find any trace of it - if you know where I can find it, please let me know: it's very funny.


  1. In 1905 William James read "The Golden Bowl" and wrote to his brother 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?" Older brothers generally know best.

    A few years ago I tried to get into Henry James, but after about three attempts at various novels I had to give up. Then I tried some film versions of his books and really enjoyed them.Some of them directed by James Ivory they had great roles for actresses [Deborah Kerr, Lee Remick, Vanessa Redgrave, Nicole Kidman, Barbara Hershey, Helena Bonham Carter etc], generally got nominated for design Oscars and were easy on the eye and ear. The male parts were immensely drippy.

    At the same time I tried Edith Wharton ["House of Mirth", "Age of Innocence" in fact] and both books were tremendous and the film adaptations even better in my opinion. Both books had all the bite lacking in James.

    I discovered recently that the wonderful actor Ralph Richardson was a great authority on James and revered him for most of his life so I am missing something obviously.

    1. Prompted by your comment, SDG, I have recorded the 1997 film version of The Wings of the Dove - I just hope they've jazzed it up with some car chases, a serial killer sub-plot, lashings of nudity and, of course, wholesale profanity.

      Speaking of which, my wife just send someone a card featuring a Punch cartoon of a publisher talking to Jane Austen in his office: "The novel's very good, Miss Austen - but all the effing and blinding will have to go."

      I've only tried to read one book by William James - "The Varieties of Religious Experience", and his prose style is, indeed, more straightforward than that of brother (as one would expect of a Pragmatist) - but I couldn't finish that either!