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THE SHORT STORIES OF HENRY JAMES von Henry…
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THE SHORT STORIES OF HENRY JAMES (2009. Auflage)

von Henry James (Autor)

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William Morris was born in Walthamstow, London on 24th March 1834 he is regarded today as a foremost poet, writer, textile designer, artist and libertarian. Morris began to publish poetry and short stories in 1856 through the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which he founded with his friends and financed while at university. His first volume, in 1858, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems, was the first published book of Pre-Raphaelite poetry. Due to its luke warm reception he was discouraged from poetry writing for a number of years. His return to poetry was with the great success of The Life and Death of Jason in 1867, which was followed by The Earthly Paradise, themed around a group of medieval wanderers searching for a land of everlasting life; after much disillusion, they discover a surviving colony of Greeks with whom they exchange stories. In the collection are retellings of Icelandic sagas. From then until his Socialist period Morris's fascination with the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples dominated his writing being the first to translate many of the Icelandic sagas into English; the epic retelling of the story of Sigurd the Volsung being his favourite. In 1884 he founded the Socialist League but with the rise of the Anarachists in the party he left it in 1890. In 1891 he founded the Kelmscott Press publishing limited edition illuminated style books. His design for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is a masterpiece. Morris was quietly approached with an offer of the Poet Laureateship after the death of Tennyson in 1892, but declined. William Morris died at age 62 on 3rd October 1896 in London. Here we present Hopes and Fears for Art.… (mehr)
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[From Tellers of Tales, Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1939, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii:]

When for this book I read, yet once again, the short stories of Henry James, I was troubled by the contrast offered by the triviality of so many of his themes and the elaboration of his treatment. He seems to have had no inkling that his subject might be too slight to justify so intricate a method. This is a fault that lessens one’s enjoyment of some of his most famous tales. A world that has gone through the great war, that has lived through the troubled years that have followed it, can hardly fail to be impatient with events, persons and subtleties that seem so remote from life. Henry James had discernment, a generous heart and artistic integrity; but he applied his gifts to matters of no great import. He was like a man who would provide himself with all the impedimenta necessary to ascend Mount Everest in order to climb Primrose Hill. Let us not forget that here was a novelist who had to his hand one of the most stupendous subjects that any writer ever had the chance of dealing with, the rise of the United States from the small, provincial country that he knew in his youth to the vast and powerful commonwealth that it has become; and he turned his back on it to write about tea parties in Mayfair and country-house visits in the home shires. The great novelists, even in seclusion, have lived life passionately; Henry James was content to observe it from a window. But you cannot describe life unless you have partaken of it; nor, should your object be different, can you fantasticate upon (as Balzac and Dickens did) unless you know it first. Something escapes you unless have been an actor in the tragicomedy. Henry James was shy of the elementals of human nature. His heart was an organ subject to no serious agitation, and his interests were confined to persons of his own class. He failed of being a very great writer because his experience was inadequate and his sympathies were imperfect.

[From Cakes and Ale, Vintage Classics, 2000 [1930], ch. 11, p. 101; the first person narrator:]

...when I was lunching with the Driffields a few years ago I overheard him saying that Henry James had turned his back on one of the great events of the world's history, the rise of the United States, in order to report tittle-tattle at tea parties in English country houses. [...] He said: 'Poor Henry, he's spending eternity wandering round and round a stately park and the fence is just too high for him to peep over and they're having tea just too far away for him to hear what the countess is saying.

[From Great Modern Reading, Nelson Doubleday, 1943, pp. 524-5:]

[“The Beast in the Jungle”] is the longest story in the volume. It is written with a leisureliness that is now out of fashion and I am aware that you may find it exquisitely tedious. But in such a book as this it would have been shocking to leave out a story by Henry James; for, though not the most gifted writer that America has produced (I should place far above him for power and originality Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain), he is its most distinguished men of letters. His influence on fiction, especially in England, has been great, and though I happen to think it has been a bad influence, its enduring power makes him an important figure. Nor should it be forgotten that the passionate seriousness with which he took his art has been, if not an incentive, at least an encouragement to those who came after him to look upon their craft as something that demanded the best of their powers and to aim consciously at giving fiction form and significance that may sometimes make it more than the pastime of an idle hour.

The story I have chosen is characteristic of James’s manner, and it has to me a peculiar poignancy because I seem to see in it a bitter revelation of the inadequacy that he felt in himself. I will not spoil it by telling the secret that James through all these laborious pages has tantalizingly held back to the very end, but that shortcoming that made a futility of his hero’s life is, I fancy, the shortcoming that Henry James was too perspicacious not to recognize in himself. Because of it, like his hero, he never succeeded in coming to grips with life. He saw it not as an actor in it, but as a looker-on from an upstairs window. The story reads to me like a lamentable admission of his own failure.

I do not quite believe in it as a narrative. I cannot see the wise woman he has so well presented withholding through the years the home truth on which her happiness depended. But James found it hard to step into a woman’s shoes. He has drawn women who were charming or pathetic, grim or forthright, but he seems to me to have seen them only as they affected the males with whom he was concerned. He never saw them as ends in themselves. But accepting the convention in which Henry James wrote, if after finishing this story you have the patience to read it again, I think you can hardly fail to be impressed by the subtlety and the adroitness with which, adding a little touch to a little touch, he has achieved the effect he aimed at. It is a masterpiece of technique.

[From The Vagrant Mood, Doubleday & Company, 1953 [1952], p. 212:]

He had certain remarkable gifts, but he lacked the quality of empathy which enables a novelist to feel himself into his characters, think their thoughts and suffer their emotions. Flaubert vomited as though he too had swallowed arsenic when he was describing the suicide of Emma Bovary. It is impossible to imagine Henry James being similarly affected if he had had to narrate a similar episode. Take The Author of Beltraffio. In that a mother lets her only child, a little boy, die of diphtheria so that he should not be corrupted by his father's books, of which she profoundly disapproves. No one could have conceived such a monstrous episode who could imagine a mother's love for her son and in his nerves feel the anguish of the child tossing restlessly on his bed and the pitiful, agonizing struggle for breath. That is what the French call litérature. There is no precise English equivalent. On the pattern of writer's cramp you might call it writer's hokum. It signifies the sort of writing produced purely for literary effect without a relation to truth or probability. A novelist may ask himself what it feels like to commit a murder and then may invent a character who commits one to know what it feels like. That is litérature. People commit murders for reasons that seem good to them, not in order to enjoy a curious experience.

[From Points of View, Vintage Classics, 2000 [1958], “The Short Story”, pp. 142-6:]

A good many years ago the editor of a great new encyclopaedia which was in preparation wrote to ask me if I would contribute the article on the short story. I was flattered by the compliment, but declined. Having been myself a writer of short stories, I did not think I could write such a piece with the impartiality it required. For a writer of short stories writes them in the way he thinks best; otherwise he would write them differently. There are several ways of writing them, and each writer uses the way that accords with his own idiosyncrasies. It seemed to me that the article on the subject would be much more adequately written by a man of letters who had never written stories himself. There would be nothing to prevent him from being an unbiased judge. Take, for instance, the stories of Henry James. He wrote many, and they are greatly admired by cultivated readers whose opinion one is bound to respect. It is impossible, I imagine, for anyone who knew Henry James in the flesh to read his stories dispassionately. He got the sound of his voice into every line he wrote, and you accept the convoluted style of so much of his work, his long-windedness and his mannerisms, because they are part and parcel of the charm, benignity and amusing pomposity of the man you remember. But, for all that, I find his stories highly unsatisfactory. I do not believe them. I do not believe that anyone who could visualise a child’s agony when suffering from diphtheria could conceive that the child’s mother would let him die sooner than allow him to grow up and read his father’s books. This is what happens in a story called The Author of Beltraffio. I don’t think Henry James ever knew how ordinary people behave. His characters have neither bowels nor sexual organs. He wrote a number of stories about men of letters, and it is told that when someone protested that literary men were not like that, he retorted, “So much the worse for them.” Presumably, he did not look upon himself as a realist.

[…]

Henry James stated his position on this matter in a preface he wrote to a collection of stories which he entitled The Lesson of the Master. It is a difficult piece and, though I have read it three times, I am not at all sure that I understand it. I think the gist is that, confronted with “the preponderant futilities and miseries of life” it is only natural than an author should seek “some fine example of the reaction, the opposition or the escape”; and since he cannot find models in real life to illustrate his intention, he must evolve them out of his inner consciousness. The difficulty, it seems to me, is that the author has to give these creatures of his invention some of the common traits of human beings, and they do not fit in with the traits he has arbitrarily ascribed to them, with the result that they fail to convince. But this is only an impression of my own, and I ask nobody to agree with me. Once, when Desmond MacCarthy was staying with me on the Riviera, we talked much of Henry James’s stories. Memories are short nowadays and I may remind the reader that Desmond MacCarthy was not only a charming companion, but a very good critic. He was widely read, and he had the advantage, that not all critics have, of being a man of the world. His judgements within their limitations (he was somewhat indifferent to the plastic arts and to music) were sound, for his erudition was combined with a shrewd knowledge of life. On this particular occasion we were sitting in the drawing-room after dinner and in the course of conversation I hazarded the remark that for all their elaboration many of Henry James’s stories were uncommonly trivial. To this Desmond, who had a passionate admiration for him, violently protested; so, to tease him, I invented on the spur of the moment what I claimed was a typical Henry James story. As far as I remember, it ran somewhat as follows:

Colonel and Mrs. Blimp lived in a fine house in Lowndes Square. They had spent part of the winter on the Riviera, where they had made friends with some rich Americans called – I hesitated for the name – called Bremerton Fisher. The Fishers had entertained them sumptuously, taken them to excursions to La Mortola, to Aix and Avignon, and had invariably insisted on paying the bill. When the Blimps left to return to England, they had pressed their generous hosts to let them know as soon as they came to London; and that morning Mrs Blimp had read in the Morning Post that Mr. and Mrs. Bremerton Fisher had arrived at Brown's hotel. It was evident that it was only decent for the Blimps to do something in return for the lavish hospitality they had received. While they were deciding what to do, a friend came in for a cup of tea. This was an expatriated American, called Howard, who had long cherished a platonic passion for Mrs. Blimp. Of course she had never thought of yielding to his advances, which in fact were never pressing; but it was a beautiful relationship. Howard was the sort of American who, after living in England for twenty years, was more English than the English. He knew everybody of consequence and, as the phrase goes, went everywhere. Mrs. Blimp acquainted him with the situation. The Colonel proposed that they should give a dinner party for the strangers. Mrs. Blimp was doubtful. She knew that people with whom you have been intimate when abroad, and found charming, may seem very different when you see them again in London. If they asked the Fishers to meet their nice friends, and all their friends were nice, their friends would find them a crashing bore and the poor Fishers would be dreadfully 'out of it'. Howard agreed with her. He knew from bitter experience that such a party was almost always a disastrous flop. ''Why not ask them to dinner by themselves?'' said the Colonel. Mrs. Blimp objected that this would look as though they were ashamed of them or had no nice friends. Then he suggested that they should take the Fishers to a play and to supper at the Savoy afterwards. That didn't seem adequate. ''We must do something,'' said the Colonel. ''Of course we must do something,'' said Mrs. Blimp. She wished he wouldn't interfere. He had all the sterling qualities you expected from a colonel of the Guards, he hadn't got his D.S.O. for nothing, but when it came to social matters he was hopeless. She felt that this was a matter that she and Howard must decide for themselves; so next morning, nothing having been arranged, she telephoned to him and asked to drop in for a drink at six o'clock when the Colonel would be playing bridge at his Club.

He came, and from then on came every evening. Week after week, Mrs. Blimp and he considered the pros and cons. They discussed the matter from every standpoint and from every angle. Every point was taken and examined with unparalleled subtlety. Who could have believed that it would be the Colonel who provided the solution? He happened to be present at one of the meetings between Mrs. Blimp and Howard while, almost desperate by now, they surveyed the difficult situation. ''Why don't you leave cards?'' he said. ''Perfect,'' cried Howard. Mrs. Blimp gave a gasp of pleased surprise. She threw a proud glance at Howard. She knew that he thought the Colonel something of a pompous ass totally unworthy of her. Her glance said, ''There, that's the true Englishman. He may not be very clever, he may be rather dull, but when it comes to a crisis you can depend upon him to do the right thing.''

Mrs. Blimp was not the woman to hesitate when the course open to her was clear. She rang for the butler and told him to have the brougham brought round at once. To do the Fishers honour she put on her smartest dress and a new hat. With her card case in her hand, she drove to Brown's Hotel - only to be told that the Fishers had left that morning for Liverpool to take the Cunarder back to New York.

Desmond listened rather sourly to my mocking story; then he chuckled. ''But what you forget, my poor Willie,'' he said, ''is that Henry James would have given the story the classic dignity of St. Paul's Cathedral, the brooding horror of St. Pancras and – and the dusty splendour of Woburn.''

At this we both burst out laughing. I gave him another whiskey and soda, and in due course, well pleased with ourselves, we parted to go to our respective bedrooms.
  WSMaugham | Jun 11, 2015 |
A thinking man's short story author, James is difficult reading. He exercises your brain. When you come away from him, you may wonder, "What's the point of this story? So what?" or "His characters are so flat!" True. But there is something about him that eventually leaves a mark. You realize that he may not be a great or popular author, but he certainly is a true writer. Yes, he takes an awfully long time to say something, but it is in his word choice that makes you like him after all. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
729. The Short Stories of Henry James, selected and edited by Clifton Fadiman (read 23 Apr 1963) There are 19 short stories in this book , and I did short comments on each. The fourth story is The Liar, written in 1888 and my comment: This is really fine--the best yet. Built like the work of an architect, yet seemingly much more difficult than an architect's work. One finds oneself expecting things which do not happen--James' fiction is more subtle than O. Henry's, of course. In its serenity the fineness of it is the more admirable. The other story drawing raves from me was The Beast in the Jungle, published in 1903 of which I said: A fantastic superb story of a man who fails to live, and whose life is over before he knows he has failed to love. ( )
  Schmerguls | Jun 12, 2013 |
Fadiman says in the last commentary of this collection, "If James is read with sufficient slowness and care, and if he is re-read often enough, he will always at last reveal himself. He is bound to, for his mind was never unclear."

Henry James is a genre unto himself - it is difficult to make the transition from this thoughtful interior world to any other writer. Whatever you read after a James story seems phony.

I can't lay claim to have read any other James short stories, so I can't tell if this is a particularly good selection. I like Fadiman's writing, however - he quickly seizes on the main theme and provides a little bit of background information in the 1-2 page commentary following each story. ( )
  bexaplex | Aug 23, 2007 |
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William Morris was born in Walthamstow, London on 24th March 1834 he is regarded today as a foremost poet, writer, textile designer, artist and libertarian. Morris began to publish poetry and short stories in 1856 through the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which he founded with his friends and financed while at university. His first volume, in 1858, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems, was the first published book of Pre-Raphaelite poetry. Due to its luke warm reception he was discouraged from poetry writing for a number of years. His return to poetry was with the great success of The Life and Death of Jason in 1867, which was followed by The Earthly Paradise, themed around a group of medieval wanderers searching for a land of everlasting life; after much disillusion, they discover a surviving colony of Greeks with whom they exchange stories. In the collection are retellings of Icelandic sagas. From then until his Socialist period Morris's fascination with the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples dominated his writing being the first to translate many of the Icelandic sagas into English; the epic retelling of the story of Sigurd the Volsung being his favourite. In 1884 he founded the Socialist League but with the rise of the Anarachists in the party he left it in 1890. In 1891 he founded the Kelmscott Press publishing limited edition illuminated style books. His design for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is a masterpiece. Morris was quietly approached with an offer of the Poet Laureateship after the death of Tennyson in 1892, but declined. William Morris died at age 62 on 3rd October 1896 in London. Here we present Hopes and Fears for Art.

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