Some thoughts on Henry James

During my younger years, like most people, I went through a rebellious phase.  First, punk music provided a solution to my need, and later I eagerly subscribed to anything modern or post-modern.  Henry James for several years in fact represented to me the enemy.  I discovered James Joyce in high school and later read D.H. Lawrence; both are often attributed as the men who brought the Victorian era to a close, and also killed the polished style of their predecessors (i.e. Henry James).  Hemingway wrote short terse sentences in part to further disassociate himself from James and the style he represented.  It wasn’t until about two years ago that I finally began to think for myself and wonder: just what’s wrong with Henry James?

Probably, many readers today respond to Henry James with revulsion as I did, viewing him as some stuffy aristocrat, impossibly recherche, and long-winded.  Well, he is all of those things, but as I discovered, he’s a lot of other things too: a complex storyteller, a well-travelled individual, a good conversationalist, and an incredibly prolific author.  He also writes a good ghost story.

Since I discovered his work was accessible to more people than the boorish elite (even Slavoj Zizek praises him in The Parallax View) I ended up devoting huge amounts of time to reading his work.  I’ve now read The Ambassadors, Daisy Miller, The Wings of the Dove, The Aspern Papers, The Spoils of Poynton, The Turn of the Screw, Washington Square, and about dozen short stories.  If that weren’t enough, the title of my first published book comes from one of his quotes.  “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.”  

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