the Ladder : a Henry James website
Doesn’t anyone read Henry James anymore? I am referring to anything other than Portrait of a Lady and The Turn of the Screw. Henry James was considered verbose, and difficult to understand even during his time.
The density of Henry James’ prose makes him even more difficult to read now. He composed sentences such as:
“The spectator of whom they would thus well have been worthy might have read meanings of his own into the intensity of their communion — or indeed, even without meanings, have found his account, aesthetically, in some gratified play of our modern sense of type, so scantly to be distinguished from our modern sense of beauty.”
But, see, what thoughts this man had. See how cleverly he cloaked them?
And what incredibly-chiseled things they are to those who can appreciate them still.
His novella The Beast in the Jungle (the story of, “the man to whom nothing on earth was to have happened.”) had such a fantastic first line, which made quite a smashing start, despite the story’s initial unfolding in an indifferent manner (but I recommend that if you should read this, do stay with the story, as it suddenly climaxes with much power towards an ending with rhetorical impact):
“What determined the speech that startled him in the course of their encounter scarcely matters, being probably but some words spoken by himself quite without intention — spoken as they lingered and slowly moved together after their renewal of acquaintance.”
It was said that he wrote the way he talked, and dictated most of his sentences to an amanuensis.
He did have remarkable fans, notably Max Beerbohm. Also, I read somewhere that when Ernest Hemingway’s depression got the best of him, in an emotional letter, he wrote about emulating the same steady, calm stature that Henry James possessed:
“Pretty soon I will have to throw this away so I better try to be calm like Henry James. Did you ever read Henry James? He was a great writer who came to Venice and looked out the window and smoked his cigar and thought.”