On-Line Proofing and Henry James


On-Line Proofing and Henry James

After encouraging everyone to share in this endeavor yesterday, I was able to go over and enjoy the proofing of about a half-dozen pages of Henry James's very fine travelogue/art history/social commentary Italian Hours. Henry James has of recent date become something of a weakness for me. For the longest time I simply couldn't understand what anyone saw in his work. After the list of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century was issued from the Modern Library group, I determined that because his name was on the list three times, I must truly be missing out on something. I started with he most recent of those three entries, and by far one of the most challenging books I had ever read--The Golden Bowl it took me weeks of nibbling and note taking, a little here and a little there, until finally I was able to get through the entire thing. While I'm not certain I agree with the critics in calling this his best novel, it certainly opened the door into his works for me. In James, as in Conrad, and to some extent Hawthorne, it is not so much the arrival that matters as the journey. You don't read James to find out what happens in the traditional sense of tracing a story line. You read James to find out why anything happens. All of the stories center around characters and actions that are highly psychologically motivated. Thus the confusion of many when they reach the end of "Turn of the Screw" and they say, "So, what exactly was going on here?" Nevertheless, read properly, slowly, truly savoring the prose and the winding labyrinth of the tale, "Turn of the Screw" is one of the most effective and horrifying ghost stories you will read.

The breakthrough with James opened other doors that had hitherto been closed. I've become a major fan of Joseph Conrad and Nathaniel Hawthorne, both of whom I had considered too windy and somber before. Hawthorne, you might be surprised to learn, has quite an engaging and delightful sense of humor.

For those who have no so challenged themselves, I would recommend taking up a book by James--though I wouldn't recommend The Golden Bowl as a starting point. Perhaps Daisy Miller or even Turn of the Screw would make for an interesting and entertaining beginning to expanding your acquaintance with this unjustly neglected key figure in American Literature.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 17, 2002 9:48 AM.

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