The Millions : Henry James and the Joys of Binge Reading – The Millions

A certain reputation precedes Henry James, I think — and it’s not a very good one. Another preconception I had about him was that he was rather passé, in both style and content. He already seemed outdated in his own time (at the turn of the century, who else was writing novels about adultery among the rich and beautiful in such wordy prose?), so how could he possibly be relevant today?

I was wrong, of course. Although James was never read by the masses, he still generates a fair deal of critical attention and admiration.

[…]

It is clear that James is not passé, and never was. He is, in fact, perhaps more relevant than ever; but his works lie in a strange place outside of time, and they were written that way. James was and remains a demanding author because he found something intensely true about the complexity of human nature and felt compelled to communicate this truth in the stories that took hold of his imagination. He was a careful writer, true to his art and craft, and a meticulous revisionist. His works are deep, long, airless dives into the complexities and multiplicities of the self. It’s not an easy subject to write about. His stories, lacking in plot, are simple accounts: mere turning points in the lives of characters or revelations of social organizations. Yet in their self-consciousness and ambiguities, and even in the circumlocutions of James’ language — which in truth is closer to the fragmented consciousness of modernism than to Victorian verbosity — they reveal something irresistibly true about life.

Henry James will probably never be passé.

Source: The Millions : Henry James and the Joys of Binge Reading – The Millions

10 thoughts on “The Millions : Henry James and the Joys of Binge Reading – The Millions

  1. James will survive, I think, longer than any other 19th-century writer in English, partly because he is less place- and time-bound. The Spoils of Poynton is one of my desert-island books; don’t ask me why, but it is. And the other year, at a yard sale, I picked up three volumes of his letters, mostly from Europe to his family in the US. These are spontaneous, perceptive, thoroughly enjoyable accounts of his travels throughout Europe, beginning when he was a teenager. They are remarkable, and I urge anyone with the slightest interest in James, to seek out the letters.

    • Yes, I have those books of letters. They are very interesting. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. There is currently a project to publish all of his letters, in some 140 volumes. Unfortunately, the books are quite expensive, and they’re coming out too slowly. It will take tickets for all of them to be published.

  2. James will survive, I think, longer than any other 19th-century writer in English, partly because he is less place- and time-bound. The Spoils of Poynton is one of my desert-island books; don’t ask me why, but it is. And the other year, at a yard sale, I picked up three volumes of his letters, mostly from Europe to his family in the US. These are spontaneous, perceptive, thoroughly enjoyable accounts of his travels throughout Europe, beginning when he was a teenager. They are remarkable, and I urge anyone with the slightest interest in James, to seek out the letters.

    • Yes, I have those books of letters. They are very interesting. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. There is currently a project to publish all of his letters, in some 140 volumes. Unfortunately, the books are quite expensive, and they’re coming out too slowly. It will take tickets for all of them to be published.

  3. I’ve found it difficult to get past the first paragraph of James’ novels. Perhaps I should give him another chance. But as for “binge reading”… James Kirkwood, even some Cormac McCarthy, yes. Henry James…?

    • I think it was about 15 years ago that I binged almost all of Henry James. That’s when I really came to appreciate him. You might want to start with his “tales,” short stories and novellas. I read them all in the Library of America editions. Here’s the first volume: http://amzn.to/2goHu0G

      These include short stories, but also longer works like Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, and Turn of the Screw. I would almost say that I prefer the shorter James works, especially the medium-length pieces.

      • I’m not an intellectually lazy person. But when it comes to complex stuff, my interest is primarily musical. Taking my time to digest a writer who is about as opposite to Twain as you can get is difficult for me. But I’ll give it another try.

  4. I’ve found it difficult to get past the first paragraph of James’ novels. Perhaps I should give him another chance. But as for “binge reading”… James Kirkwood, even some Cormac McCarthy, yes. Henry James…?

    • I think it was about 15 years ago that I binged almost all of Henry James. That’s when I really came to appreciate him. You might want to start with his “tales,” short stories and novellas. I read them all in the Library of America editions. Here’s the first volume: http://amzn.to/2goHu0G

      These include short stories, but also longer works like Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, and Turn of the Screw. I would almost say that I prefer the shorter James works, especially the medium-length pieces.

      • I’m not an intellectually lazy person. But when it comes to complex stuff, my interest is primarily musical. Taking my time to digest a writer who is about as opposite to Twain as you can get is difficult for me. But I’ll give it another try.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.