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Posts tagged Henry James
Strether meets Gloriani
Henry James is notorious for having produced very difficult fiction. His only rival in this regard is the other James, namely, Joyce. They use English in ways that make it seem alien. After several readings —which are demanded and assumed— it emerges that the ostensible difficulty is but a side-effect of the supreme beauty of their language.
The golden rule of writing fiction is “show don’t tell” but in James, we observe a technique that achieves both at once. In The Ambassadors, James delivers the following description of the protagonist’s encounter with an artist:
“Gloriani showed him, in such perfect confidence, on Chad’s introduction of him, a fine worn handsome face, a face that was like an open letter in a foreign tongue. With his genius in his eyes, his manners on his lips, his long career behind him and his honours and rewards all round, the great artist, in the course of a single sustained look and a few words of delight at receiving him, affected our friend as a dazzling prodigy of type.
Strether had seen in museums —in the Luxembourg as well as, more reverently, later on, in New York of the billionaires —the work of his hand; knowing too that after an earlier time in his native Rome he had migrated, in mid-career, to Paris, where, with a personal lustre almost violent, he shone in a constellation: all of which was more than enough to crown him, for his guest, with the light, with the romance, of glory.
Strether, in contact with that element as he had never yet so intimately been, had the consciousness of opening to it, for the happy instant, all the windows of his mind, of letting his rather grey interior drink in for once the sun of a clime not marked in his old geography. He was to remember again repeatedly the medal-like Italian face, in which every line was an artist’s own, in which time told only as tone and consecration; and he was to recall in especial, as the penetrating radiance, as the communication of illustrious spirit itself, the manner in which, while they stood briefly, in welcome and response, face to face, he was held by the sculptor’s eyes.
He wasn’t soon to forget them, was to think of them, all unconscious, unintending, preoccupied though they were, as the source of the deepest intellectual sounding to which he was ever exposed.”1
Henry James, The Ambassadors. p. 126. ↩