online: 16 october 2007
modified: 14, 16 october 2007

13/14 october 2007 a portrait of the culture

13 october
...over the last day or two i've read again the end of The Portrait of a Lady... never before have i become so aware of the accurate and comprehensive skill in Henry James' writing... and what he means by freedom to portray life in full, as he perceives it... as one 'on whom nothing is lost' (as he wrote somewhere)...

14 october i re-read those last chapters (48-55) of The Portrait (in which Isabel decides to return to her deadly marriage*) i felt as if i had never read this book, or any (by Henry James or by others), with so much awareness of the world, and of life... as seen by another... a writer...

...and in a medium consisting only of l i t t l e m a r k s of ink on paper, less concrete and more abstract than spoken words... and yet alluding to so many meanings... much so that i began to lose my dislike of the realism, and of the supposed emotions (in most novels) and to see that, in Henry James at least, these are elements of a most delicate and exact portrayal... not only of an imagined story but of life itself...

...and now this enables me to see that fiction can indeed be a superior (or more comprehensive) medium, or artform, as it permits of everything... revealing perhaps the very nature of thought... and word... and action... the whole thing!


*Henry James' decision to send Isabel back into that marriage is what led me to attempt a new life for her (and her creator) in the electric book... but seeing now (in the Wikipedia entry on Henry James) a quotation about his realistic and wholistic purpose, i begin to doubt this contrived escape from 'life as it is', in all its negative as well as positive aspects:

Edmund Wilson noted that writers like Henry James (he cites Racine, Moliere and Shakespeare):

...are occupied simply with the presentation of conflicts of moral character, which they do not concern themselves about softening or averting. They do not indict society for these situations: they regard them as universal and inevitable. They do not even blame God for allowing them: they accept them as the conditions of life.
Edmund Wilson in The Portable Edmund Wilson edited by Lewis Dabney, p.128-129, (1983) ISBN 0-14-015098-6

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