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August 7, 2013

The Stories of Henry James (2): "The Conquest of London," 1875-1884 (Book Review)

In 1875, Henry James spent half a year in New York, a city that did not inspire him, so around the time his second novel, Roderick Hudson, was published, he decided to settle in Paris. There, he met many of the leading artists and writers of the day: Ivan Turgenev, Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola and Alphonse Daudet, as well as the young Maupassant. James was a great admirer of Turgenev and Flaubert. Despite his social success, James felt an outsider in Paris and in 1876 he moved to London. He would make England his home for the rest of his life, although he continued to travel frequently. In London, James befriended Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson and many others and he was a frequent guest on the social scene. He also met Trollope.

Around this time James' first great novel, The American, was published, on the theme of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe that also haunts the stories from this period. In 1878 he reversed the situation in The Europeans. From the same year dates his masterful story "Daisy Miller" about the all-American girl snubbed by European mores.

1878 was an important year for James, in which he was not only accepted as an author but also socially absorbed into English society. He felt completely at home in England. From now on, he would publish his novels and stories on both sides of the Atlantic. He wrote with an almost Balzacian fertility and the precision of his prose belies the speed with which he sometimes had to write. He became a literary lion.

In 1880, James wrote the popular short novel Washington Square.

The next year James stayed in Venice where he wrote The Portrait of a Lady, one of his masterworks, which was serialized by Howells in the Atlantic Monthly.

In 1881 James paid an extended visit to the U.S. While he was in Washington, he had to rush to Boston as his mother had suddenly died. And when James had barely returned to London again, has father became critically ill, forcing James to travel once more to Boston. He stayed on for several months to sort out his father's inheritance. Back in London, in 1883, he learned of the death of his friend Turgenev.

Despite these personal losses, James continued to write and travel. In 1883, a multi volume set of his stories and novels was published in the U.K.

In these years when James achieved his first great success as a novelist, he also continued profusely writing stories for magazines. Themes in this period are:

- Further explorations of the international theme, in many stories, such as the famous "Daisy Miller," "An International Episode," "Four Meetings," "The Siege of London," Pandora," "Lady Barberina," etc. In James' lifetime, the distance between America and Europe was considerably shortened. After The Civil War, thanks to steam, the screw propeller and the turbine engine, the trip which in the 1840s (when the James' family first visited Europe) still took 19 days, was decreased to less than half that number. Prices were also reasonable - a self-supporting school mistress (as in "Four Meetings") could make a trip to Europe on her savings. Tourism blossomed, and was a attended by a new internationalism. But the many Americans who flooded to Europe as tourists or art students noticed that although the distance had become shorter, cultural differences loomed large - and that is James' theme.
- We also see a certain amount of experimentation: in "Benvolio," which is an atypical parable with conscious authorial intrusion; in "A Bundle of Letters" and "The Point of View," where James plays with the epistolary form. This is a period in which James' stories are adventurous in narrative technique.
- As regards method, James perfects his mastery of the "unexpected resolution" ("Impressions of a Cousin," "Longstaff's Marriage," etc.).

Note the uneven division of the stories: 1878 and 1884 were good years, but there are also years James did not write any stories. Besides working on his large novels, he was also busy writing reviews, travelogues, and essays about literature and art.

Here are the stories from 1875 to 1884:

"Benvolio" [1875]
First published in The Galaxy for August 1875. First edition in book form in The Madonna of the Future and Other Tales in 1879.
An allegory. The writer Benvolio alternates between two women: a Countess and a Professor's daughter, Scholastica. The countess loves the theatre, Scholastica loves poetry. Is this a symbolic expression of the artist's dual need for society and solitude? Or, as biographer Leon Edel says, is it James' vacillating between Europe (the Countess) and America (the scholastic environment of Boston, with his philosophical father). As a story, in James' oeuvre, this is atypical.
Text at: Internet Archive

"Crawford's Consistency" [1876]
First published in Scribner's monthly, 1876
A dramatic tale of the "dangers of marriage." The rich Crawford first courts the beautiful but cold Elizabeth, to whom he becomes engaged, but she eventually jilts him. He tries to get over his shock by suddenly marrying a rather commonplace and vulgar woman. After Crawford loses all his money due to problems at his bank, this wife turns to drink and both their lives become hell. The wife has violent tendencies and literally turns Crawford into a cripple. James could not have come out stronger on the side of remaining a bachelor.
No free text available on the internet.

"The Ghostly Rental" [1876]
First published in Scribner's monthly, September 1876
A "ghost story" with an interesting twist. A father receives rent from the ghost of his daughter. He is guilty of her death because he broke up her love relationship, and cursed her, which presumably led to her death. Her ghost remains alone in the old family house and even insists on paying rent - the father visits the house every three months to collect it. Unknown to the father, the daughter is alive and well and only pretends to be a ghost in order to scare him away and to keep him from marrying her to a man she doesn't care for. But on the last pages a "real" ghost appears in the story...
Text at: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center

"Four Meetings" [1877]
First published in Scribner's Monthly, December 1877. First book edition in Daisy Miller: a study; An international episode; Four meetings of 1879. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
The dream of visiting Europe of an American school mistress finally comes true. But as soon as she gets off the boat in Le Havre, she is relieved of all her money by an American cousin. The demoralized cousin claims that he has been tricked into a marriage with a countess. Penniless, the schoolmistress returns within a few hours to America, without seeing anything of Europe. Later, following the death of her cousin, the so-called countess, who is a vulgar fraud, comes to live with her in the States and never leaves anymore.
Text at: Project Gutenberg; State University of New York, New Paltz

"Rose-Agathe" [1878]
First published in Lippincott's Magazine, May 1878. First book edition in Stories Revived (1885). 
A light story based on a misunderstanding: the narrator thinks his friend is in love with a hairdresser's wife, while he is in reality infatuated with a wax display model in the show window.
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"Daisy Miller: A Study"  [1878]
First published in The Cornhill Magazine of June and July 1878. First book editions Daisy Miller: a study, New York, Harper, 1878 & Daisy Miller: a study; An International Episode; Four Meetings, London, Macmillan, 1879. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
One of James' most popular stories on an international theme, a small masterpiece about a naive, headstrong American girl at odds with European conventions. As other people who have never left their country do (and in particular Americans, because their country is so big!), she believes that customs and manners from upstate New York are valid all over the world. The American expatriate Daisy Miller is courted rather confusedly by the narrator, who is a more sophisticated compatriot, but at the same time her too free relation with an Italian admirer turns her into the object of gossip. Young women simply did not go out without a chaperon in 19th c. Europe;  and Mr Giovanelli, who is not a real "gentleman," is different from her boyfriends in Schenectady. Ultimately her failure to grasp the social mores of the society she so desperately wishes to enter leads to tragedy. Was Daisy Miller just honest and innocent? Or was she frivolous and irresponsible? James had discovered "the American girl" as a social phenomenon and as a type. The story has been written with great economy and is a good start for readers new to James.
Text at: Eldritch Press; State University of New York, New Paltz (New York edition); Project Gutenberg ebooks@adelaide; Wikisource

"Longstaff's Marriage" [1878]
First published in Scribner’s Monthly, August 1878. First book edition The madonna of the future and other tales, 1879.
Two American women traveling in Europe, meet the English Mr. Longstaff on the beach in Nice. He is an invalid and about to die and tries to persuade the beautiful Diana to marry him as an act of kindness. She refuses (as she fears he will live, as he indeed does), but a few years later meets him again while their roles have been reversed. Will he now marry her and will she live, too?
Text at: Internet Archive

"An International Episode"  [1878]
First published in The Cornhill Magazine of December 1878 and January 1879. First book edition Daisy Miller: a study; An International Episode; Four Meetings, London, Macmillan, 1879. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
Two English cousins, Lord Lambeth and Percy Beaumont, visit America and stay with a family in Newport, the Westgates. Also staying there is Bessie Alden of Boston, a sister of Mrs. Westgate and an American bluestocking. When Lord Lambeth shows signs of falling in love with her, Percy Beaumont betrays this news to the Lord's mother so that he is called home. The next year, both sisters visit England, and Lord Lambeth again pays daily visits to Bessie. In the end, however, she turns him down - not because of the formidable resistance of his mother, but because when she sees him in his own country he appears in a rather negative light as an idle and unserious man.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Pension Beaurepas"  [1879]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, April 1879. First book edition in Washington Square; The Pension Beaurepas; A bundle of letters, London, Macmillan, 1881. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
An American businessman is held in Geneva by his vulgarian, extravagant wife and daughter, who shop till they drop, while his business is going to ruin in New York due to an economic crisis. We also meet an American mother and daughter who drift from cheap pension to cheap pension, although the daughter would like to return to the States.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Diary of a Man of Fifty" [1879]
First published in Macmillan's Magazine, July 1879, and in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1879. First book edition The madonna of the future and other tales, 1879.
A middle-aged man returns to Florence, where, 25 years ago, he has turned his back on an Italian Countess, a difficult woman whom he decided he could not trust. Now he meets a young man in love with the woman's daughter. It looks as if his old experience is being reenacted. Will history indeed repeat itself? Has he been fair to the mother in the past?
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"A Bundle of Letters" [1879]
First published in The Parisian of December 1879. First book edition in Washington Square; The Pension Beaurepas; A bundle of letters, London, Macmillan, 1881. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
A light tale of international manners, told via the letters written by people of various nationalities staying at a French pension. Of course, the lone American female traveler is also present, but this time she does not come to grief. A funny point is that these foreigners have come to stay with a French family to improve their knowledge of that language, but find themselves surrounded with other non-French speakers.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Point of View" [1882]
First published in The Century Magazine, December 1882. First book edition The siege of London; The Pension Beaurepas; and The point of view, Boston, Osgood, 1883. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
Again a stack of letters, this time written by repatriating Americans and European visitors, and giving various points of view on the States. James was rather critical of his own country, considering it as mediocre. More a series of "rants" than a real story.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Siege of London" [1883]
First published in The Cornhill Magazine of January—February 1883. First book edition The siege of London; The Pension Beaurepas; and The point of view, Boston, Osgood, 1883. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
An American widow, who is not "respectable" according to 19th c. mores, and who was ostracized by New York society, strives to work her way into English high society via a "siege of London." A Westerner several times divorced, she uses her "funny" dialect and spirited humor to win over people. She wages a big battle against the prejudices of Lady Demesne, whose son she wants to marry. A countryman, who knows everything about her past, is also on the scene. Will she prevail and find in the Baronet her last and permanent husband? Or will her countryman spoil her plans?
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"The Impressions of a Cousin"  [1883]
First published in The Century Magazine, November and December 1883. First book edition in Tales of Three Cities, published in Boston by Osgood and in London by Macmillan in 1884. 
An American woman who prefers Europe is back in America to visit her cousin
Eunice. Eunice is defrauded of her inheritance by her guardian, who is the executor of the will. The narrator helps Eunice retrieve the stolen fortune, but perversely this costs her Eunice's friendship - although it gains her a husband.
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"Lady Barberina"  [1884]
First published in Century Magazine in May—July 1884. First book edition in Tales of Three Cities, published in Boston by Osgood and in London by Macmillan in 1884. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09), in which the name of the protagonist and title of the story was changed into "Lady Barbarina."
Lady Barberina, a peer's daughter marries an American millionaire and goes most reluctantly to live in America; her sister joins her in the States and then elopes with a showy Californian who is merely a big "moustache." Finally, Lady Barberina and her husband end up living in England, just as she wanted all the time. Deftly shows the intercultural differences between London and New York: the lady's parents want a financial settlement before the marriage of their daughter, which the American husband does not understand and stubbornly refuses; the American husband is a practising medical doctor, something the Peer does not understand - he is after all, rich enough to do nothing and need not have a "profession" (which is looked down upon by the English aristocracy); etc.
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"Pandora"  [1884]
First published in the New York Sun on 1 and 8 June 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
Pandora Day is a counterpart to Daisy Miller, the "self-made" American girl, but now in a more positive vein. Her tale is told with great charm through the eyes of a young German diplomat bound for America. In a neat joke, we see him reading "Daisy Miller" at the start of the story as a preparation to his new mission. Pandora even meets the President of the United States and obtains a post from him for her fiance. As a story this is, however, much slighter than "Daisy Miller."
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Author of 'Beltraffio'"  [1884]
First published in The English Illustrated Journal, for June—July 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
A poisonous narrative and the first example of the theme of "the tormented child" in James. A famous author, Mark Ambient, is locked in an antagonistic marriage, daily fighting with his wife for possession - body and soul - of their delicate little boy. The cold, narrowly Calvinistic wife intensely dislikes her husband's hyper-aesthetic "pagan" writings and is afraid their son will be contaminated by the father's almost morbid love of beauty and art. Because of that fear she fails to summon medical help when the child falls ill, and lets him die. James does not make clear what is really so bad about the writings of Mark Ambient that they would lead to the destruction of a marriage and the indirect death of a child, but we could take a hint from the fact that this tale originated in the situation known to James of the English poet Symonds, who was a proponent of homosexuality, and who was constantly quarreling with his very proper wife. On a side note, Ambient has a weird sister who is a clever satire on the self-consciously "artistic" personality.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"Georgina's Reasons" [1884]
First published in The New York Sun on 20 July, 27 July and 3 August 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. 
A rather sensational tale, written for a newspaper. An American woman, the unconventional Georgina, marries a naval officer in secret, against her parent's wishes, and hides the fact; her husband promises to never claim the relationship. She gives secretly birth to his child (as if it were illegitimate) and then disposes of it to foster-parents somewhere in Europe. Later she remarries without obtaining a divorce. Her first husband, back from a long voyage, and now in love with another woman he wants to marry, is faced with the dilemma of denouncing her, or of accepting the possibility of bigamy for himself, as Georgina refuses to allow him to break his promise and obtain a divorce.
Text at: Project Gutenberg
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"A New England Winter" [1884]
First published in The Century Magazine, August and September 1884. First book edition in Tales of Three Cities, published in Boston by Osgood and in London by Macmillan in 1884. 
A beautiful picture of winter in Boston. Mrs Daintry has a painter son who lives in Europe and only pays short visits to her in Boston. In order to make him stay longer she plots to have a young woman, a distant relative, stay with her sister-in-law for the entertainment of the young man. But nothing turns out as expected in this comedy of manners...
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"The Path of Duty" [1884]
First published in The English Illustrated Magazine, December 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. 
The "path of duty" is the path followed by a man, Ambrose Tester, and woman, Lady Vandeleur, who love each other but remain apart, he having already promised (just before his true love Lady Vandeleur became a widow) to marry another. But their self-sacrifice makes the life of the bride very uncomfortable  - James shows that the "virtue of renunciation" may be as undesirable as the "vice of gratification."
Text at: Project Gutenberg
Introduction and Text at The Ladder

The best stories among the above are in my view:
  • Daisy Miller
  • The Siege of London
  • An International Episode
  • Lady Barberina
  • The Pension Beaurepas

If you prefer to read the stories in book form, the recommended edition is that of the Complete Stories of Henry James, in five volumes, in The Library of America. Collections of stories are also available, for example in two volumes in Everyman's Library, or in Penguin Classics.

Essential websites about Henry James are: The Ladder, a Henry James Website written and edited by Adrian Dover; and The Henry James Scholar's Guide to Websites by Richard D. Hathaway.

The definitive biography on James has been written by Leon Edel, The Life of Henry James, in five volumes (1955-1972). There is also a shortened version: Henry James, A Life (1985) - which still runs to above 700 pages.