...I could not wait to read the scholarly edition* of Henry James' The Ambassadors that I've just bought - so i walked to the nearest park where i might find a vacant seat at which to begin reading it - or rather sample pages of the novel itself and of the included writings about it by Henry James and others...
There is even an essay** (of more than 6000 words) about the first paragraph seen (in its grammatical structure) as a demonstration of the tone of the whole novel - and also the author's 20,000 word description*** of the book before it was written (which a magazine editor rejected). Yet to Henry James it was
'frankly, quite the best, "all round," of my productions'.
But what a pleasure to be able to find a book of his that is not already on my shelves - a book about Paris (the city in which he at first intended to live) and what a pleasure to be sitting reading it here in London, surrounded by the never ceasing traffic while sitting next to a cluster of foaming fountains...
Two young men pass with jackets open and hands in pockets... Tourists walk past the fountains... A taxi hoots at something on the encircling road, i look up and see the floodlit tower of the library of London University rising above rooftops ... i could continue forever writing in this or any part of the live centre of this or any city - it fascinates me as much as does the forest for it is surely just as alive, not organically but in its technical and its cultural profusions...
The fountains have collapsed into small blossoms of water - i wonder if the change is part of a fixed program or if the fountains grow taller when someone comes close?... I notice now that each spout is lit from within - with that technical daring to mix water and electricity that is now so easily possible with synthetic materials and composites but in the early days was a thing to avoid, always. As in bathrooms
Yes there's a pleasure to be had, in the conjunction of book and of city, that i am lucky to enjoy, here and now and quite often, in these pages and these bookshops and these streets and these parks and this London!
* Henry James: The Ambassadors, an authoritative text, the author on the novel, criticism, Edited by S P Rosenbaum, W W Norton and Company, New York, London, 1994, second edition.
** by Ian Watt, 'The first paragraph of The Ambassadors', in the same book.
*** Henry James, 'Project of novel by Henry James', in the same book. This description was rejected by H M Alden, the editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, but nevertheless it was published by Harper's, in their other magazine The North American Review, and as a book, both in 1903.
This essay on James is a dull grind of an affair, a Baedecker to a continent.
...but to me it is not dull - the essay reveals vast awareness and vast themes (that extend beyond the narrowness of most fiction) - it describes some of the 'everything' of which Henry James was aware...
'Henry James' in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, edited by T S Eliot, New Directions, New York 1968, pages 295-338.
...and i now feel i must mention also Gertrude Stein's equally long essay of informed and inventive praise, yes more than that... and her perception of Henry James as a rare one who, confronted by the choice between God and Mammon, could successfully choose both!
'Henry James' in Gertrude Stein, look at me now and here I am, writings and lectures 1911-1945, Peter Owen, London, 1967, and recently reissued as a paperback by Peter Owen (2005?), pages 274-312.
And now i'm reminded of something i'd begun to forget: that my reading of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady in 1980-1, led me to attempt the electric book in which he and his character Isabel, and his brother William, appear. Yes i'm most certainly caught up in the cobwebs of James worship - though i still find it difficult to take in the complexity of his writing and i am still (as with Marcel Proust's writing) somewhat put off by a snobbishness of theme and an identification with hierarchy and wealth... but what Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein wrote about him dispells that. So he must be on the side of both angels and demons - and thus beyond the superstitions of left and of right and of most of us.
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