Friday, December 31, 2010

The Other House (published in 1896) - By Henry James, the story of a murder

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The other house is a dark murder mystery by Henry james and a one of a the kind from his stable. James never wrote a dark tale again and none of his upright characters ever could commit murder. This tale of raw passion between three women and a man resulting in the death of a child is somewhat disturbing in its essence.
The tale starts with two houses separated by a river, one being East-Mead, presided by the matronly widow Mrs. Beever along with her slow witted son Paul, the other house is the Bounds where the newly wedded couple, Tony and Julia Bream live. Julia is often haunted by the abuse at the hands of her stepmother and dies while giving birth to her child. On her death bed she extracts a promise from Tony that he would never marry and give her daughter a stepmother. Tony in his grief promises and brings up Effie his daughter on his own.



Rose Armiage is Julia's childhood friend, who nurses a deep love for Tony. She views Effie an impediment for her goal as Tony is duty bound not to bring in a step mother. Tony loves Jean Martle a simple girl next door. She too returns his ardor and understand his predicament. Rose is engaged to Denis Vidal a energetic world traveler. She keeps Denis on tenterhooks, by not accepting or rejecting his proposals, trying to woo Tony for a commitment. Rose in love almost becomes deranged when she realizes the presence of Jean Martle in Tony's life and love turns into lunacy.
Rose drowns little Effie and tries to frame Jean for the act. But an alert doctor and couple of inquiries actually help others to zero in to the culprit. But here lies the agony and twist in the tale. Rose is sent away with Denis and everything is hushed up. Tony and Jean get to marry as the only obstacle in their way is removed by Rose.
This dark tale without a trace of justice for poor Effie is dreadful and scary. Rose's lunacy horrifies even the toughest of men and even Tony's sense of justice “Her doom will be to live” does not hold water. Sometimes the reader is forced to believe that Tony is relieved about the murder as no sense of attachment is shown towards the child. This book was also pillaged by the critics for tis lack of depth and lack of relationships. You can read it for once but there are better books written by Henry James.

The Other House (published in 1896) - By Henry James, the story of a murder

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Spoils of Poynton (published in 1897) - A story about the struggle between a mother and son, by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fleda Vetch is a principled but poor lady who is unwittingly caught between a property dispute between Mrs. Gereth and her son Owen. Owen inherits Poynton, the Jacobean Family home filled with antique treasures collected over the years by Mrs. Gereth and her late husband. Owen being the new owner wants his mother to move out so that he can bring in his bride Mona Brigstock. Mrs. Gereth reviles Mona for her coarseness and regards her as a philistine. She feels that Mona with no taste is unsuitable to oversee her treasure.



Owen asks Fleda to be the go-between and convince his mother. She is sympathetic to Mrs. Gereth, but asks her to respect Owens wishes. Mrs. Gereth finds a wonderful opportunity to save her treasures and urges Owen to marry Fleda. She even moves to a small house which later Fleda finds to be overflowing with treasures stolen from Poynton. Here Owen and Mona's engagement hit a road-block ad Mona insists on the return of the treasures. During this Owen finds Fleda's simplicity attractive and proposes to her.
Fleda does not agree to the proposal and asks Owen to personally break up with Mona for her to accept his suit. Mrs. Gereth finding Mona out of the picture returns the antiques to Poynton and goes with Fleda out of the town. But soon a telegram reaches them that Mona and Owen are married and both of them are shattered. A letter from Owen reaches Fleda, thanking her for her effort and he asks her to pick an antique of her choice as a keepsake. Fleda on reaching Poynton finds it completely gutted by fire and is left to stare at the timing of fate.
This novel had appeared in a serialized version for the Atlantic Monthly and later was published as a novel. James chronicles the tendency of acquisition among us and derides the act of collection of treasures. His indictment is stronger for Mrs. Gereth who puts her antiques above her relationships. Personally I find the principled Fleda, not very attractive as she keeps on wavering her stand. Owen would be better of marrying Mona because she knows her mind even though it is about money. This novel with such a comic theme is a must for all Henry James's fans.

The Spoils of Poynton (published in 1897) - A story about the struggle between a mother and son, by Henry James

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Wings of the Dove (published in 1902) - Story of an afflicted lady, written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Wings of the Dove is one of Henry James's most acclaimed novel, incorporating the the clash of American and European sensibilities woven through a love story. Kate Croy and Merton Densher are lovers whose union has many impediments. Kate is a daughter of an impoverished, disgraced lawyer who is living with an autocratic Aunt. Her Aunt Maud Lowder bars her from having any contact with her family and Densher as they have no social standing. Kate loves Densher, but cannot bring herself to earn her aunts wrath or worse getting disinherited from her riches. So in to this conundrum, a rich American Heiress, Milly Theale arrives with her companion. She explores the London society which totally toasts her because of her money and she finds a friend in Kate.



Milly is seriously ill, even though her doctor is non-committal she feels that her days are numbered and confides many of her secrets to Kate. Kate comes to know that Milly's old flame is none other than Densher and she formulates a audacious plan which may leave the two lovers free to marry after all. Kate conceals her love for Densher and encourages him to shower attentions on Milly. An unsuspecting Milly falls for the trap and for Densher. She travels to Venice with Densher and Kate in tow. Here Kate confides to Densher that Milly is seriously ill and he may inherit her fortune which can enable him to marry her.
Milly but comes to know about the love trap through her old suitor, Lord Mark and turns seriously ill. It is easy to make plans but requires mental toughness to go through it. Densher witnesses Milly's suffering and his resolve wavers and in the end it sickens him. The fact that Milly was in the know when she died cripples his conscience again. Milly still leaves a large part of her money for him and her act of forgiveness from the grave deals the ultimate blow for the well laid plans.
Densher tells Kate that she has to make a choice – it is the money or him. He is ready to bequeath all of it to Kate if she chooses the envelope over him. Kate and Densher part knowing that life would never be same for them again. This amazing story is a bit verbose and meandering, so it requires a bit of patience to keep at it. Better keep a dictionary by your side because there are a lot of tough words to decipher. But if you keep at it, you may be a part of something very beautiful and poignant. This soul stirring story is one of Henry James's best works.

The Wings of the Dove (published in 1902) - Story of an afflicted lady, written by Henry James

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Sacred Fount (published in 1901) - A strange book, written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Sacred Fount is a theory espousing, jargon filled book by Henry James which may be incomprehensible for many. At least it was for me and to put the book down after twenty five odd pages was a real temptation. The whole book coils and uncoils like a huge python which has just eaten and just cannot do anything else. It smells the air just to satisfy the curiosity and lies down listlessly again. Even the staunchest of Henry James's fans would not be able to digest this humongous waste of paper which ultimately amounts to nothing.



The novel starts with an unnamed narrator getting on the train to Newsmarch to immerse himself in his social circle for the weekend. Many critics point out that the narrator is Henry James himself and sometimes I am not surprised. To be going to your brilliant circle who do not have much to do, but to eavesdrop on idle sexual gossip sounds to be a good time for an author. Anyways the narrator espouses a new theory that he can divine the love lives of his fellows with out any detective work, just by observation and knowledge, phew!!!!. So to prove his theory he spies on poor Gilbert Long who seems to be radiating vitality unlike his earlier avatars. So he feels that Long might be channeling some sexual energy from a poor lover like a vampire-- so the vampire theory of attraction comes to being.
He spots Mrs. Brissenden who is looking 10 years younger than her haggard earlier self. Again the vampire theory comes to the fore – that the sacred fount of sexual energy is tapped from some poor soul. He sees a lady May server looking listless and immediately deduces that she is Long's lover. Soon at the party he espouses his theory to everyone, especially a Ford Obert, about who is giving whose energy etc etc. I think it is a miracle that Ford Obert survived the weekend at Newsmarch or worse the narrator escaped from him.
So these tedious discourses do mercifully come to an end when he has a midnight encounter with Mrs. Briss, who tells him to can his bottle of worms. She essentially terms his theories utter rubbish, which is evident for the readers and tells him point blank that he is crazy. The narrator is left overwhelmed and the readers put to their hands together for the dear Mrs. Briss. If you love the inexplicable, immeasurable, unknowable and crazy arguments, this book is for you. If you are a sane, good chap you can really do with out it.

The Sacred Fount (published in 1901) - A strange book, written by Henry James

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Golden Bowl (Published in 1904) - A complex story by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Golden bowl is a coming of age story of Maggie Verver who discards her childhood naiveté and assumes her marital responsibilities. She is the only child of Adam Verver, the wealthy financier and falls in love with an charismatic but impoverished Italian Prince Amerigo. Maggie's childhood friend Charlotte was the Prince's mistress during his early days in Rome. But Maggie unaware of this past connections introduces Charlotte and the Prince and deputes her to show the prince around. Charlotte and the Prince go shopping for a wedding present for Maggie. They see a gilded crystal bowl which Charlotte likes but the Prince declines it insisting on a secret flaw.



Maggie after her marriage is more concerned about her father's loneliness and asks him to propose to Charlotte. Charlotte and Adam get married and move with Maggie in Europe. Both the Prince and Charlotte feel left out between the Father and Daughter and soon start their own affair.
Maggie soon become suspicious about her husband and her suspicions are confirmed when she buys a gilded Crystal bowl. The shop keeper on visiting her house confirms the intimacy displayed in his shop by Charlotte and the Prince. Maggie takes stock of the situation calmly and proceeds to salvage her marriage with precision and tact. She persuades her father to move back to the states with Charlotte. Amerigo is impressed by her confidence and diplomacy, and he falls in love with her all over again. Maggie takes the threads of her life in her own hands and grows up from a daddy's girl to a responsible wife and adult.
The Golden Bowl focuses on the four characters and all others pale themselves in to obscurity. Henry James language and prose have their own separate signature style. The story is a very strong one about relationships and each incident is dissected and presented before the reader. No incident is insignificant in his style of writing. There is a heavy dose of symbolism which is a clear departure from his other novels. The golden bowl which ultimately breaks is taken from the biblical passage from the book of ecclesiastics 12:6, “the golden bowl be broken, then shall the dust return to the earth as it was". The dramatization stresses the need for the tactful resolution of marital problems which would go a long way in cementing a relationship.
Good book to read.

The Golden Bowl (Published in 1904) - A complex story by Henry James

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Ambassadors (published in 1903) - A dark comedy, written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Ambassadors is one of most fulfilling book penned by Henry James and chronicles again the American and European way of life. Here Young America is portrayed as a puritan stiff culture which stifles the lives of its citizens, where as European Paris with its Joie de vivre, is completely satisfying.



Lambert Strether is a Puritan New England citizen who is engaged to a wealthy industrialist widow Mrs. Newsome. But his fiancée agrees to the wedding only if he can bring her wayward son, Chad from Paris. So Strether leaves for Paris and alights in London where he meets witty Maria Gostrey, whose opinions leave him shaken. He leaves for Paris and meets Chad who to his amazement is a young man with impeccable manners. Through Chad he meets Madame Marie de Vionnet whose beauty and sophistication allures him. Strether feels the air changing around him and the fun and beauty takes hold of his being. He enjoys the sights and actions in the new city accompanied by many of his friends. All the more his attraction for Marie, questions his commitment to return to New England to marry Chad's mother.
Strether drinking in the new experiences confides in Young Bilham, Chad's friend that he has missed many life defining moments and makes up his mind to be part of the Parisian scene. Mrs. Newsome dispatches a new set of Ambassadors who involve Chad's sister, Sarah and her husband. They are invulnerable to the charms of Paris and even behave like uncouth sailors upon their arrival.
Strether meanwhile comprehends that there is a amazing romantic relationship between Marie and Chad and is forced to check his feelings. He feels bad to break them up and make Chad return to the stifling atmosphere of New England. He advises Chad to stay loyal to Marie in Paris and plans his way home.
Ambassadors is again a typical Henry James novel, long, verbose and defining. Each situation and decisions are weighed through the pages and requires a lot of patience and dexterity to stay on course. But the story and prose is bound to hold your attention and you grow in to it. It is definitely not one of your slam bang novels which holds you at the first word. Love for Henry james comes at a leisurely pace and therefore is long lasting.

The Ambassadors (published in 1903) - A dark comedy, written by Henry James

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Maisie Knew (published in 1897) - Written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
What Maisie Knew is an account of a child growing in a dysfunctional family. This novel was initially serialized in the the monthly called Chap book and later taken up by the New York Review. Henry James follows the travails of Maisie from childhood to adulthood totally abandoned by her biological parents.



Maisie is the daughter of Ida and Beale who are an estranged perpetually squabbling couple. After their divorce the judge decrees the custody of Maisie to be split and the poor child shuttles between the parents, six months a year. Both Ida and Beale use her for furthering their hurt and are hardly sensitive to her needs.
Both her parents marry, Ida to Claude, a bumbling simple man, and Beale, to Maisie's pretty governess. Maisie gets a new governess, the funny, klutzy but devoted Mrs. Wix. Ida and Beale settle down with their spouses and their extramarital affairs, Maisie is all the more neglected. Many a time her own parents abandon her in the most heartbreaking manner and the lonely Maisie becomes the responsibility of the bumbling Mr. Claude. As her parents alienate their new spouses, both Claude and Mrs. Beale start having an affair. Soon Maisie must make a choice to remain with her parents or with Claude. AS she is holidaying in France, Maisie realizes that Claude's marriage would also end up in a divorce as they do not have a firm standing on values. Maisie chooses her frumpy but devoted governess Mrs. Wix as her new guardian.
Henry James was never a father but he portrays the fear and tribulations of a dark childhood very earnestly. Through this book James lashes out against the growing erosion of values in family life and gives the ultimate sufferers in a broken marriage, the children, a voice. When this was published initially the critics were of mixed views. But this book is also relevant in our contemporary society where divorce and single parent homes are more common. This book gives the dos and dont's for child rearers and the need for bringing up a child in a balanced environment.

What Maisie Knew (published in 1897) - Written by Henry James

The Awkward Age (published in 1899) - Written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This novel was published in the Harpers Weekly and is about the coming of age of a sweet unspoilt girl Nanda. Mr. and Mrs. Edward Brookenham are parents of Harold and Nanda and are upwardly mobile and part of a decadent and corrupt social circle. Harold resembles his parents, but Nanda is sweet and knowledgeable. Mr. Longdon, a family friend of the Brookenham's, while attending one of the family functions is pleasantly surprised to see the grown up Nanda and her resemblance to her grandmother, a long lost love. He is but very critical about the hypocrisy and decadence developing around to spoil Nanda's innocence.



Mr. Vanderbank, an upcoming civil servant showers his attentions on Mrs. Brookenham and also notices Nanda. Mrs. Brookenham wants to have an affair with Vanderham but slowly Nanda grows on him. Nanda's mother wants her to marry Mitchy, a very rich but a naive guy from their social circle. Nanda persuades him to pursue Aggie, a step-niece of their friend, the Duchess.
Longdon, disturbed by the loss of values at the Brookenham household assures Vanderbank of a dowry if he agrees to marry Nanda. Vanderbank continuously hesitates in his proposal and Nanda sees her mother's attraction towards Vanderbank. Mitchy marries Aggie and Nanda rejects Vanderham. She realizes the values and stability in Longdon and agrees to stay with him as an adopted daughter.
Henry James while writing this novel was disturbed by the loss of values all around the English society. He derides the irresponsibility and immorality pervading everywhere. In the Brookenham household, all visitors and the host are never saints and have immorality, hypocrisy and deceit running through all their actions. Nanda rejects all of them for Longdon who epitomizes the old world charm of values.
This book is not the critics favorite, but still holds a charm of its own. It presents the effect of a disruptive forces on the mind of a growing child who ultimately craves stability. Nanda is more mature than her years and therefore can reject the society of party animals. But Henry James does not guarantee a happy ending and definitely does not say how her life would pan out with the influence of her parents. A real thinking family's book -definitely!!

The Awkward Age (published in 1899) - Written by Henry James

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Bostonians (published in 1886) - A novel by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This politically charged novel explores the burning issues of the feminist movement, namely independence, suffrage and the parity in relationships. Even now women are confronted to make a choice between personal and professional relationships and many do not find fulfillment in life because of the choice they are forced to make.
Basil Ransom is a no-nonsense civil war veteran and a lawyer from the south for whom women and independence do not go together. He spends some time with his cousin Olive Chancellor, a fiery feminist and political opponent. He does not subscribe to her values and opinions about suffrage and feminism. Olive sees in him a remnant of the past who has to be redeemed and takes him along to hear a lecture from a famous speaker Verona Tarrant.



Verona, a daughter of the mesmeric healer is a prodigious talent, whose mesmeric voice catches the audience. Olive sees this talent which can be used for her movement and gets her to move in with her, and becomes her mentor, guide and coach. For Verona's parents she is a goldmine whom can be used for monetary reasons. Basil goes for the lecture and falls for Verona's beauty. He does not care two hoots for her opinions and personal choices, and pursues her insistently. Olive is much dismayed by Basil's actions and guards her charge with vehemence. But to her chagrin Verona reciprocates Basil's attentions and chooses personal happiness to political statements. Basil and Verona elope much to the discomfiture of Olive and other political activists.
This book revolves around the three characters, Basil, Verona and Olive with others merely being benign spectators. Olive's fiery feminist views and noble intentions is over shadowed by her usage of Verona for personal reasons. Verona is the beauteous lady who has to make the choice between love and opinions and ends up between the devil and the deep sea. She has to leave her freedom and personality for a man and happiness of having a home. Her tears are not her last ones, Henry James assures us, as she sacrifices her beliefs in the altar of love. Doesn't this echo the predicament of todays career women who still has to choose between personal fulfillment and advancement in life?
The echoes of the Bostonians are very real even today and the ultimate redemption willl come only if women need not be caricature's of a dragon career lady or the plain homemaker. The freedom of choice and fulfillment would be the ultimate nirvana for the feminist movement. Till then the tears will not be th last one to fall.

The Bostonians (published in 1886) - A novel by Henry James

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Princess Casamassima (published in 1886) - A novel by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City in to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
How does one come up in society which values class, birth and money? For the poor whose very existence is tough and are reviled by the rich, the gulf is too much to bridge. So is revolution an answer where the poor are mere myrmidons to carry out the orders of their masters? These are the questions which shoots out in this politically charged novel by Henry James.
Hyacinth is born out of wedlock, a byproduct of a relationship between a French prostitute and a English lord. His mother stabs the Lord when he refuses to accept the paternity and is subsequently jailed. He is brought up by Amanda Pynsent, an impoverished seamstress who is his mothers dear friend. Pynsent feels a fire inside Hyacinth and gets him educated and he becomes a skilled book binder. Well in to his youth he meets his dying mother in prison and is filled with revulsion at his own state of affairs and the perfidy of the rich.



The coarseness of his existence forces Hyacinth to struggle to get out of the rut, but is prevented from doing so because of his low station in society which places too much premium on birth. He finds a date with Millicent Henning who loves him unreservedly. But Hyacinth in his angst rejects her love and falls for the beauteous princess Cassamassima. Princess Cassamassima is a bored aristocrat separated from her husband and Hyacinth reminds her of her own humble origin before her marriage. She encourages his attention and he too falls for her charms. Hyacinth also mistakenly believes that the Princess's attention will catapult him in to her society ultimately redeeming his social standing.
Hyacinth meets the shadowy political revolutionary, for whom revolutionary ideals are a stepping stone to fulfill his ambitions of power. Paul Munificent recruits Hyacinth and assigns him the task of assassinating a capitalistic aristocrat. Meanwhile the Princess too comes under the influence of Munificent and his charm and bed room prowess makes her discard Hyacinth. Caught in a bind between committing murder and rejection Hyacinth realizes the futility of revolution. But it is too late to turn back, as failing to do his duty would bring him the wrath of revolutionaries and the success would put him in the cross-hairs of the law. Hyacinth turns the gun on himself understanding the futility of either course.
This melancholy book would not be much relevant today where upward mobility is possible through hard-work and talent. But in Victorian England and many societies of today where birth is a premium, this story holds true. I found the work a very poignant tale of a man caught in the class war where redemption would have been a miracle. Princess Cassamassima is one of Henry James's less successful books, but I feel it is a much needed reality check too.

The Princess Casamassima (published in 1886) - A novel by Henry James

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Reverberator (published in 1888) - A classic story by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City in to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Reverberator is a comic love story in which James explores the public hunger for gossip. He explores the journalistic voyeurism akin to todays page 3, which is actually due to the indiscretions on the part of the public itself.



The Dossons are a nouveau rich family who are rising steadily in the society. In contrast are the Proberts who are American born, but cling to their old French roots for societal recognition. The Proberts are the snobbish aristocracy of the town who look down upon Dossons new money. The Dossons in Paris get acquainted with George Flack who writes for an American Gossip paper “The Reverberator” who introduces them to the finer points of Parisian life and art. Young Francie Dosson poses as a model for a painting and gets introduced to Gaston Probert and their whirlwind romance culminates in to an engagement.
Francie even though had turned down Flack's proposal, she remains friends with him. The Proberts are dismayed by the engagement but everything remains hunky dory on the surface. But the lull before the storm does not last long when Francie talks about the intimate going-on's within the Probert's circle. Flack promptly prints the juicy details in his newspaper and all hell breaks loose. The Proberts are sickened by the reports and even Gaston is horrified by Francie's indiscretion. But the Dossons and Francie are not very apologetic as they find nothing disturbing about the reports. They even find the publicity mildly amusing.
So does the scandal cause a wedge between Gaston and Francie? Well this may turn out to be a spoiler - Suzanne, Gaston's sister supports Francie in an unexpected turn of events and this urges Gaston too to put his weight behind her. After a little heart burn both Gaston and Francie do get married.
This book also chronicles James's pet subject about the clash of cultures, between the old world snobbery and new world indiscretions. This is one of the rare comedies written by Henry James and certainly deserves a look.

The Reverberator (published in 1888) - A classic story by Henry James

The Tragic Muse (published in 1890) - A classic written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Tragic Muse tells the angst of a man condemned to pursue the family line instead of his heart. This novel is a byproduct of Henry James's fascination for the theater and its artist. The protagonist is Nick Dormer who is passionate about art and hopes to pursue the career of an artist. But he is pressurized to tow the family diktat wherein politics is a chosen field. Nick's friend and guide Gabriel Nash also encourages his passion, but Nick despite his misgivings about politics gives up his artistic ambition and plunges head long in to the political Arena.
Peter Sheringham is a career diplomat who meets Mariam Rooth, an aspiring actress. Rooth is beautiful and full of passion even though her rough edges blunts her attractiveness. Sheringham does everything to help Rooth to attain her ambition of becoming a famous actress even to the extent of introducing her to Madame Carre to train her.



Nick Dormer roughs it out in the electoral field and wins the election to the parliament. His ambitious fiancée Julia is ecstatic as she envisages herself to a part of the race. Nick proposes to Julia who gleefully accepts him and both decide to wait to set the date. But Nick soon becomes tired with the rough and tumble of politics and quits. He even looses the patronage of many powerful people, but undettered he returns to his first love, painting. Meanwhile, a vastly improved Mariam reaches London in search of theatrical success and she agrees to pose for Nick's painting the “Tragic Muse”. During the course of the painting, Julia chances upon them and all hell break loose. Julia understands that nothing improper has happened, but is devastated by the realization that Nick would never return to public life. This scandal brings Mariam to the public gaze and she leverages it for her success. A wedge is created between Nick and Julia.
Sheringham proposes marriage to Mariam who turns him down and heartbroken he takes up an assignment in central America. Years go by and so does the fortunes of the protagonist. A much chastened Sheringham returns and accepts Biddy Dormer's hand and Nick pursues art with all his heart and soul courting success. Mariam also succeeds as an actress and the novel ends with a supposed reconciliation between Nick and Julia.
A good book perfectly written about the vagaries of fame and triumph.

The Tragic Muse (published in 1890) - A classic written by Henry James

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Portrait of a Lady (published in 1881) - written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"The portrait of a Lady" gives the insight in to the life of Isabelle who wants to live by her own destiny and is hampered by her choices in life. Isabelle Archer is a penniless orphan who is taken in by her aunt Lydia Touchett. Touchett's are the wealthy of the New York strata and consists of the patriarch Touchett, a rich banker, Lydia his wife and their tubercular son Ralph. Ralph is a good natured young fellow and intervenes with his dad to make a provision for Isabelle in his will. As Mr. Touchett dies Isabelle comes in to her inheritance and becomes a wealthy women. While in New York she gets two marriage proposals, one by Casper Goodwood and another from Lord Warburton. Isabelle rejects them both and leaves with her aunt to Europe to see the world.



She meets Madam Merle and is taken up by the womans free spirit and aspires to have her bohemian outlook. Merle introduces her to Gilbert Osmond and he floors Isabelle with his good tastes and behavior. Isabelle marries Osmond and becomes a mother to his daughter Pansy. But after the marriage, Isabelle comes to know the horrific truth that Osmond had married her for her money. She also comes to know that Madam Merle is in fact Pansy's mother and she and Osmond had schemed to entrap her in the marriage.
Isabelle learns that her cousin Ralph is on his death bed and plans to reach him. Osmond forbids her journey to the States. But after pondering over the repercussions, Isabelle travels to the states to be with Ralph till his dying day. She again encounters Casper Goodwood who propose to her again. But Isabelle's sense of responsibility makes her turn him down again, and she returns to Osmond and Pansy in Europe.
This novel also deals with James's pet themes of the clashes between the European and American sensibilities. This novels also details the challenges faces by young Isabelle, about personal freedom, sexuality and sense of responsibility. I feel a little impatient with Isabelle when she turns down personal happiness for a warped feeling of responsibility to a man who has wronged her. But this novel gives us the morals and values prevalent in that bygone era where responsibility was deemed over happiness. Some parts of the novel are a bit tedious and meanders a lot. But all together a wonderful book.

The Portrait of a Lady (published in 1881) - written by Henry James

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Daisy Miller (published in 1878) - A classic written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City into a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Daisy Miller is a novella written by Henry James and presents the life of a pleasant coquette whose devil-may-care attitude may have been a shock to the strict Victorian society of the 18th century. This novel appeared in the Atlantic monthly in a serialized version and is treated as one of James's celebrated work.



Daisy Miller is a girl blooming to becoming a women and understanding men and the world. Her brother, Randolph Miller and herself move through Europe during their holidays. Randolph considers his hometown New York superior to others in all respects, but Daisy is eager for new experiences and immerses herself in the European culture. She meets the sophisticated Winterbourne who is taking a vacation from his studies.
Daisy like a spring flower is sprightly, attractive and lovely, and contrasts with Winterbourne's cold, dour reserve along with his class consciousness. His snobbish Aunt considers Daisy beneath her and forbids her acquaintance. Winterbourne considers Daisy's devil's may-care attitude outrageous and also disapproves of her flirtatiousness. But there is something about Daisy that Winterbourne cannot resist and he follows her to her final destination in Rome. They meet unexpectedly in Mrs. Walker's parlour. Daisy is totally unconcerned about local prejudices against American culture and becomes friends with everybody. Winterbourne understands her innocence and tries to extricate her from this predicament.
As their sojourn comes to an end Winterbourne sees Daisy with Giovanni at the Roman Colosseum. He warns her of the consequences of being a flirt, but Daisy does not care. But she soon contracts the “Roman Fever and dies shortly afterwards.
This book is full of symbolism about the culture clashes between the new order and the old world. Americans with their brashness and easy going nature perfectly contrast the class conscious monolithic European way of life. This war of the two worlds is epitomized in Daisy's attitude and Winterbourne's reserve. If you are a Henry James's fan Daisy Miller may soon pin you down with its multicolor canvas and people. Everybody stands out vividly in their mannerism and sense of values. For the uninitiated it is a bit tedious towards the middle, but still I would suggest you to keep at it as it is worth your while.

Daisy Miller (published in 1878) - A classic written by Henry James

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Europeans by Henry James (published in 1878) - A short comedy novel

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits as opposed to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Europeans is the story of a brother and sister duo who are natural born Americans but are brought up in Europe. The two protagonists are Eugenia Munster and Felix Young, Americans who spend their formative years moving around different European capitals. Eugenia's sensibilities are essentially European and has contracted a morganatic marriage with Prince Adolf of Silberstadt-Schreckenstein, the younger brother of the reigning prince. Her husbands family urge him to dissolve the marriage and Eugenia travel to Boston with Felix. They stay with their uncle Wentworth, who has a son Clifford and daughters, Gertrude and Charlotte.
Felix is immediately captivated by the charming quaint Wentworth's and being an artist offers to make a portrait of Gertrude. Gertrude is engaged to marry Brand, a pastor for whom she can never have any feelings. She plans to go through the wedding just to please her father. Gertrude's sister Charlotte loves Brand but hides it for the same reason. This family has friends, the Actons who are the nouveau rich with Robert Acton being the inheritor of the monetary benefits. He has a invalid mother and a simple sister Lizzie. The Wentworth's are strictly puritanical and they spent a lot of time with the Actons.



Eugenia feels bored among these puritanical society, but is drawn out by Robert Acton. Robert starts falling for Eugenia and she tells him about her intentions to divorce the prince. Felix reprimands Gertrude for being puritanical and tells her that he loves her. Mr. Wentworth informs Felix that Clifford has been expelled from Harvard for improper behavior and Felix offers to tie him up with Eugenia. Soon Robert Acton and Clifford come clean of their intentions with Clifford announcing his love for Lizzie. Brand comes to know about Gertrude's love for Felix and offers to marry them both
Soon all the loose ends are tied up. Brand realizes Charlotte's love and marries her and Gertrude ties the knot with Felix. Clifford and Lizzie come together too. Eugenia in turn spurns Robert and sail to Europe leaving Robert heart broken. But he meets somebody nice after a year and starts life anew.
This book reminds me about Jane Austen's tangle of characters. But in a quirky departure, there are no tall dark handsome mysterious stranger's in Henry James's book. Eugenia is the strong lady who is ahead of time's and through her the author deftly denounces the puritan values of America. He presents a lady with a mind of her own with out being a slave to other's and this European Bohemian independence is celebrated.
A good book and a pleasant read.

The Europeans by Henry James (published in 1878) - A short comedy novel

Friday, December 3, 2010

Confidence (released in 1879) - Written by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits as opposed to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Confidence is a novel by Henry James which details the romantic interludes of various characters ultimately moving towards a happily ever after ending. This novel first arrived as a serial in the Scribners Monthly and is one of the entertaining novels of Henry James. In this fast paced novel the narrator presents the facts through the window of Bernard Longueville who is an artist by profession.



He is friends with the self proclaimed scientist Gordon Wright who is considered as a genius by Bernard. Bernard meets Angela Vivian and her mother, and soon considers Angela as a coquettish, mysterious airhead. Gordon Wright feels that he loves Angela and even Angela's mother also is in favor of their union. Bernard does not consider this a very suitable match and talks Gordon out of it.
Gordon soon marries Blanche, a colorless personality who dotes on him. Gordon is soon disillusioned and starts to dream about other women. A miscommunication leads Blanche to believe that he is having an affair and this flounders the marriage even more. With a strained marriage Gordon flees to a French beach resort.
Bernard on the other hand believes that he is above love and thinks nothing of Angela. A chance meeting he understands that he was always in love with her. Angela's mystique and allure inflames him. Angela is also taken in by Bernard and soon both are engaged to marry but Gordon arrival complicates matter. Gordon feels that he still loves Angela and begs her to take him back renouncing Bernard. But Angela feels that his love is purely for the outward appearance. She acts like she is renouncing Bernard to give Gordon a chance to win her back. In this process she subtly points out that he is really in love with Blanche and is actually trying to see her through tinted eyes. Gordon realizes his mistake and goes back to Blanche and Angela again steps in to clear the misunderstanding clouding Blanche's mind.
Angela and Bernard also get married and all live happily ever after. This fun novel is one of the rare happy ending devised by Henry James. The relationships and complex subplots and the happy ending is entirely believable and entertaining. A must read for anybody who has loved in his life.

Confidence (released in 1879) - Written by Henry James

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Washington Square (published in 1880) - Originally published as a short story by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City in to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Washington Square is a tragi-comedy by Henry James which tells the relationships and conflicts between a father and his dutiful daughter. This short novel appeared as a monthly piece in the Corn-hill Magazine and Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
Dr. Austin Sloper is a widower who resents his plain daughter Catherine and still mourns the death of his wife and a brilliant son. He considers Catherine to be a dull and boring personality devoid of any personality. His house is maintained by his sister, widowed Lavinia Penniman who is a hardcore romanticist. She is a brash old thing who pokes her nose in to other's affairs.



Catherine meets Morris Townsend, a penniless gold digger who sweeps her off her feet. Townsend woos her and proposes marriage. Mrs. Penniman who loves romance and melodrama encourages and aides Townsend's actions. But Dr. Sloper sees through him and forbids Catherine to have any relationship with him. Townsend moves back to live with his sister and Sloper takes his daughter away.
Catherine, for all her waify ways has an iron will and she decides that she wouldn't not throw away her love on mere suspicion. She goes with her father on a twelve month grand tour of Europe. All through the journey Sloper mentions Townsend only twice signaling his contempt. His threat to disown Cathrine also does not have any effect on the girl.
On the final leg of the journey Slopper broaches the subject of Morris Townsend and Catherine firmly refuses to give him up. Her loyalty enrages him and he refers her derogatorily as a “pig fattened for slaughter”. This is the last straw for Catherine who has put up with his contemptuous behavior and she distances herself away from her father.
Upon her returns Catherine convinces Townsend about her loyalty and love, but he breaks off the relationship when he discovers that she has been cut off from Sloper's money. This breaks Catherine's heart which would never mend again. She rejects suitors and lovers as the injury despairs her soul. Dr. Sloper passes away with out leaving her all the money for the fear of Townsend making an appearance again. His suspicions are proved correct. Townsend indeed makes a return after a long time, smelling money. He tries to rekindle the relationship. But Catherine sees through his ploy and refuse to be led down the garden path again. At the end of the novel she picks up her life and resolves to live it as it unravels.
This novel was not very much liked by James and he had fought its inclusion in the New York Edition of his work. But it still proves one of Henry James's popular novels. Its breezy romance and the ever suffering heroine does evoke sympathy. It has all the ingredient of a tragic love story which brings a lump to your heart. Read it for its poignancy.

Washington Square (published in 1880) - Originally published as a short story by Henry James

Monday, November 29, 2010

The American (published in 1877) - First published in serialized form, and then as a book, by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City in to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This novel chronicles the travails of Christopher Newman, a gauche but rich American who travels through Europe. Newman is indeed the son of the new world, America, brash, hard working unlike the aristocrats in Europe who are very class conscious. Newman on his travel encounters many people, like Noemie Nioche, Tom Tristam and Lizzie Trisatam who give their perspective of Europe. He is introduced to beautiful Claire Clintre, a French noblewoman who has left her abusive husband. Newman falls in love with Claire and she also gives him his heart. But the Claire's mother,Madame de Bellegarde, and her older brother, Urbain de Bellegarde are against the match because of the working class origins of Newman. They never make it a secret that they are interested in his money.



Claire's younger brother Valentin de Bellegarde respects Newman for his ethics and becomes good friends with him. He also falls in love with Noemie and is challenged to a duel by another admirer. Valentin is mortally injured in the duel and in his dying moments reveals that his mother and brother had murdered his father. Meanwhile Newman tries his best to ingratiate with Claire's family and is constantly rebuffed.
When her mother and brother forbid her match with Newman, Claire takes the veil and joins a convent to become a nun. This is the last straw for Newman and he plans to take revenge against Madame de Bellegarde and her son, Urbain. He obtains written evidence of their complicity in the murder of Claire's father and plans to get them convicted. But Newman is torn in to two. One side he yearns for revenge and on the other side he sees the futility of such an action. But in the end he tears the evidence and still walks away with doubts about his actions.
The American epitomizes the new world of USA where men are honest and truthful compared to the deceit and discriminatory attitude of the Europeans. It is said that James wrote the Americans to counter the Alexander Dumas's novel L'Étrangère, which portrayed Americans as crude gold diggers. But I find the ending to be very confusing and not defined. It is a romantic novel with lot of philosophy about right and wrong and filial responsibility thrown in. In today's age, such pure virginal relationships may be non existent, but the Victorian consciousness of the Author cannot be contested. So I would still say the American is a good read.

The American (published in 1877) - First published in serialized form, and then as a book, by Henry James

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roderick Hudson (first serialized in 1875) - Written and later revised by Henry James

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City in to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Roderick Hudson is a novel where Henry James found his niche in literature. He wrote about the complexities of human relationships and the proclivities of American and European culture. Rowland Mallet is a wealthy man and an art connoisseur who sees the sculpture of Roderick Hudson and realizes that he is a gifted artist. He offers to fund his travel through Italy so as to improve his artistic talents. Mallet meets Roderick's Mother and Cousin Mary Hudson with whom he falls completely in love. As he is about to confess his feelings Roderick reveals to him that Mary has accepted hid proposal for marriage. Mallet suppresses his feelings and moves to Italy.



In Italy Roderick flourishes as an original talent but his bad behavior and tendency to gamble makes him a despised man. Mallet meanwhile dates an upcoming artist Augusta Blanchard to try and forget Mary. Roderick on the other hand finds a scintillating beauty Christina who is a gold digger. Roderick is swept off his feet and manages to win her approval to sculpt her bust. Soon his interactions with Christina increases and his infatuation drives him to insanity. Mallet tries to intervene for Mary's sake and informs him that Christina is engaged to a rich Neapolitan Prince. He also informs Christina about Mary and in-spite of his mental duress brings in Mrs. Hudson and Mary to try and save Roderick.
But Roderick's flip flop continues as he fails to complete his assignments. Christina has him in her snares and toys with his emotions. She even berates Mary at a party and Mary treats her as a fake. Rowland advises Christina to stay away from Roderick as she has married the Prince. In the meantime debts have mounted for Roderick who is unable to undertake any work. His mother and Mary ask him move back home, but Mallet asks them to move to Switzerland so that he can be close to Mary. Roderick in the mean time says that he is giving up on Mary and a chance meeting with Christina fans his desire. He begs money from mallet to join Christina in Interlaken in-spite of her married status.
Roderick dies in a storm on the way to Interlaken and a grief-stricken Mary and his Mother return home. Mallet too follows them and hope for a better day. A very complex novel and a a superb narration which makes you feel the emotions of the protagonist in your midst. A must read for all classic lovers.

Roderick Hudson (first serialized in 1875) - Written and later revised by Henry James

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)

Henry James was one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century and his works are considered mini masterpieces of the time. He was born in New York City to a wealthy and intellectual family. Young James was tutored in the many learning centers of Europe and also studied at the Harvard Law School for some time. But he liked his literary pursuits to the study of law. James preferred living in Europe than in America and even renounced his American Citizenship for its refusal to enter in to World War I. He was a regular contributor to literary magazines and started his first novel “Watch and Ward” in his early twenties. His masterpieces like “Daisy Miller” and “Portrait of a Lady” quickly followed. His protagonist are complex individuals battling personal and provincial prejudices and many a time bring about the complexities of American and European lives. Henry James died at the age of 65 and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Watch and Ward is one of Henry James's first literary works and his amateur workmanship comes to the open. He started on this novel while traveling through Venice and Paris. This novel first appeared in the Atlantic journal as a monthly piece and was published as a novel later. It is a pretty weird tale for today's times the protagonist adopting a girl to be his wife in future.
Roger Lawrence is a wealthy man of means who goes to propose to Miss Miller and finds that she is engaged to another. He tells her that he would never marry if he cannot possess her. As he walks in this wretched frame of mind a gentleman begs him for hundred dollars and a taken aback Richard offers him ten dollars. This infuriates the man and Richard slips off pocketing the note.



Later in the hotel he finds that the same man has committed suicide leaving behind a waif of twelve years. Thus he takes in the pretty girl Nora who is about twelve to his care and entrusts her to Mrs Keith for the motherly care. Mrs Keith assures him that Nora will return as a jewel whom he wouldn't even recognize. Nora begins her education and becomes an accomplished lady in music, painting and all the crafts. Upon her return, Nora is seen as the perfect lady with great beauty and gifts. Roger falls in love with her completely but does not tell her. Nora on her part does not have feelings except that of a friend or sister.
Nora is soon courted by two men, a George Fenton who is a good-looking rascal without a penny to his name. He is looking at innovative ways to make a quick buck and tries to ensnare Nora for the hold she has on Roger. He shrewdly interprets Rogers feeling and also his money. Hubert Lawrence is Roger's cousin and is a intellectual minister and Nora is attracted to his so called intelligence. After a lot of adventure's with the above men Nora comes to realize that Roger too loves her. The whole idea initially repulses her and she flies to New York city to Fenton. Fenton treats her as a means to serve his ends to extort money from Roger. Nora comes to know his devious ways and flees to Hubert. There she sees Hubert engaged to Amy who assails her presence. A much chastened Nora flees and finds Roger looking for her. She discovers her love for him and they get married.
I have found the premise pretty weird and the relationship bizarre. Even the sexed up dialogues sounds very funny for this day and age. Even James did not think highly of his first novel and had disowned it.

Watch and Ward (published in 1878) - Written by Henry James (later disowned by him)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Puck of Pooks Hill (published in 1906) - A fantasy book by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling, a Nobel laureate was born in India to a vivacious Alice Kipling and sculptor Painter, John Kipling. His works range from poems, to children's books. Rudyard was a English language writer whose prose is peppered with colloquial usage and languages mainly from India which opens a window to the prevailing culture and customs of the time. His children's stories are the most endured classics of the time and his short stories are the most sought after. Many of his works are deemed to be controversial as the time progressed. Rudyard Kipling was the product of an imperial India where imperialism under Queen Victoria was at its heights. His poems like 'White Mans Burden' are often sited as a clarion call for the imperialist and has been criticized by subsequent humanist. But as one of the youngest Nobel Prize recipient for English Language, the place for Kipling in human history cannot be discounted and his prose and poems enthuse millions even today. Kipling died in 1936 in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
These are series of stories which Kipling has taken from historical accounts and is basically about the Kings and Queens of yesteryears in Europe. So you have Queen Elizabeth, King henry, Roman Generals, Fairies, pirates and vikings striding across the pages in a glorious procession before your very own eyes.



The story starts with two children Dan and Una who stage their version of “The Midsummer Nights Dream” thus pulling the naughty fairy Puck in to their midst. Puck magically transports them across ages where they see a Norman Knight, a Renaissance artisan, Saxons, Picts, Norsemen (Vikings), a Chinese slave-master, Kings, Queens and many others, each of whom imparts his respective piece of England's history. The fantasy stories starts with:

Weland's Sword: It tells the account of the Norseman conquest where Weland the great smith forges the sword through which he conquers a country and a princess.

The Young man of the Manor continues the saga of the Norman conquest and introduces Sir Richard Dalyngridge who takes part in the conquest and wins a manor.

The Knight of the Joyous venture depicts the voyage by the Danes along with Richard Dalyngridge and other captured prisoners.

Old Men of Pevensy tells the story of intrigue in the court of Henry I when he is in Pevensy.

Centurion of the Thirtieth is the story of Parsimus who is a Roman soldier who goes to battle with the general Magnus Maximus. It tells the conquest of Gaul by the general.

On the great Wall tells us about the Hadrian Wall which was built by the Romans and it defense against the invaders.

The Winged Hats continues with the Hadrian Wall and the defense of general Magnus Maximus.

'Hal o' the Draft' is the tale of deception, mutiny and beheading involving the explores Sebastian Cabote and Privateer Andrew Barton

Dymchurch Flit is a fairy tale where Puck disguises himself as Tom Shoesmith and tells the story of widow Whitgift who loaned her sons to help others.

“The treasure and the Law” is about a Jewish money lender Kadmiel whose shrewdness is instrumental in signing of the Magna Carta ushering in peoples law in England.

All these tales are in the realm of historical fantasies and educate the children about the law and evolution of the land (England) they live in. beautiful and delightful and a must read for all ages.

Puck of Pooks Hill (published in 1906) - A fantasy book by Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just So Stories (published in 1902) - A collection of children's stories by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling, a Nobel laureate was born in India to a vivacious Alice Kipling and sculptor Painter, John Kipling. His works range from poems, to children's books. Rudyard was a English language writer whose prose is peppered with colloquial usage and languages mainly from India which opens a window to the prevailing culture and customs of the time. His children's stories are the most endured classics of the time and his short stories are the most sought after. Many of his works were deemed to be controversial over a period of time. Rudyard Kipling was the product of an imperial India where imperialism under Queen Victoria was at its heights. His poems like White Mans Burden are often sited as a clarion call for the imperialist and has been criticized by subsequent humanists. But as an youngest Nobel Prize recipient for English Language, the place for Kipling in human history cannot be discounted and his prose and poems enthuse millions even today.
Just so stories are a series of “how did it happen stories” designed for children. But adults also enjoy them a great deal because of the interplay of philosophical and religious ideologies. The various stories take their content heavily from Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic traditions and transcend the barriers of culture, color and continents. Another thing about Rudyard Kipling's stories is the language which is refreshing as new rain, it is polite and peppered with witticism and takes us to those days where chivalry and long poetry ruled roost.



The stories include:

How the Whale Got His Throat: Did you know that the whales mouth is criss-crossed by a raft to prevent it from feeding on large animals. This is done as a punishment for its greediness in eating all the animals at sea. So the poor whale can eat only shoals of small fish.

How the Camel Got His Hump: This story tells how the Camel was punished for it laziness with a hump which in-turn helps it to work uninterrupted for 3 days with out food or water.

How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin: The folds of the Rhinoceros is because of the cake crumbs and raisins between its hide put their by a magical Parsee, as a punishment for eating his cake.

How the Leopard Got His Spots: This story tells how the leopard and the Ethiopian painted themselves up all spotty and black to help themselves hunt animals in a shadowy, patchy, dark jungle.

The Elephant's Child: A great account of a curious elephant who got its nose pulled by a crocodile in to a trunk

The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo: This tells us about the Kangaroo who is chased by a Dingo around the world for daring to ask big God Nqa to make him different. All the running made his leg strong and muscular and thus made him different.

The Beginning of the Armadillos: Whats an Armadillo?, Just a Hedgehog and Turtle transforming together to escape from an unfriendly Jaguar. Only Kipling has such imagination!!!!

How the First Letter was Written: According to this, the first letter was written by a little girl Taffy, to her mother to get her fathers spear. This delightful story is about the case of bad artistry all gone wrong causing a wonderful change.

How the Alphabet was Made: So Taffy, causes an unfortunate accident because of her bad drawing in the earlier story and therefore tries to invent alphabets to get her ideas across. So “A” is an inverted craw-fish trying to say AH!!!! delightful concept. Loved this story

The Crab that Played with the Sea: This story is about the crab who interferes with the “play” of the universe and is punished for it. It also tells how it got its pincers, Shell and sideways gait.

The Cat that Walked by Himself: This tale tells the independent nature of the cat who in-spite being domesticated “walks every where and comes anytime”.

The Butterfly that Stamped: This story tells the how the beautiful Queen Balkis helps emperor Suleiman bin Daoud to control his nine hundred and ninety nine wives.

These charming tales will be an splendid antidote for the boredom afflicting your house. Join the family, switch off the TV and read aloud this mystical tales of the world.

Just So Stories (published in 1902) - A collection of children's stories by Rudyard Kipling

Friday, November 19, 2010

Captains Courageous (published in 1897) - Written by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling, a Nobel laureate was born in India to a vivacious Alice Kipling and sculptor Painter, John Kipling. His works range from poems, to children's books. Rudyard was a English language writer whose prose is peppered with colloquial usage and languages mainly from India which opens a window to the prevailing culture and customs of the time. His children's stories are the most endured classics of the time and his short stories are the most sought after. Many of his works are deemed to be controversial as the time progressed. Rudyard Kipling was the product of an imperial India where imperialism under Queen Victoria was at its heights. His poems like White Mans burden are often sited as a clarion call for the imperialist and has been criticized by subsequent humanist. But as one of the youngest Nobel Prize recipient for English Language, the place for Kipling in human history cannot be discounted and his prose and poems enthuse millions even today. Kipling died in 1936 in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
This is one of my favorite childhood books which hold a fascination even today. This coming of age story of a rich millionaire brat has been rehashed in countless movies and novels, but nothing comes near Kipling's rendition.



Harvey Cheyene is a rich kid whose father is interested in his millions and mother who has a weak will and nerves. Harvey is a spoilt brat with no concerns for fellow men and is fully immersed in his way of life as a party animal, a la Paris Hilton. At the beginning of the story, Harvey is on a cruise, on one of his father's innumerable ships. The ocean liner is crossing the grand banks cutting through the thick of fog and Harvey's more concern is about the noise from the squawking fishing vessels near by. His disconnect with his surroundings is evident from his statement "You can hear the fish-boats squawking all around us. Wouldn't it be great if we ran one down!".
So the self centered Harvey is tricked in to smoking a oily Cigar and as he clears air on the deck, a grand wave washes him overboard. The next thing he remembers is waking up on a tone of fish with a broad back man on a blue jersey who introduces himself as Manuelo. Harvey is rescued by a schooner “We're Here of Gloucester” captained by Disko Troop. Troop's son Dan keeps vigil while Harvey sleeps of his fatigue. True to his spoilt nature, Harvey demands to be taken back to New York and tells them “what a rich boy he is” and the rich haul they can have from his father. Troop refuses to believe his yarn and offers him a job on the schooner in lieu of his keep. Thus Harvey begins his life as a fisherman, gutting the fish with others.
Kipling very gamely describes the back breaking work of a fishing trawler at sea for months. He through Harvey's lessons tells how fish is caught, gutted and stored for sale. Harvey along with Dan, Manuel, Penn, Long Jack, Old Salters, Tom Platt and Disko troop pitches, cuts and salts the fish and the millionaire boy has to get on with life. Soon he gets the hang of it and takes pride in his new life. Deep friendship is formed with Dan during their watches aboard the schooner and Harvey from a spoilt pale white boy turns to a clear eyed, strong level headed creature who respects even the smallest of boats.
When Mom and Dad catch up with him, they are surprised by the transformation and Harvey has a heart to heart talk with his Dad. Harvey leaves with a promise of getting Dan a place as mate in his shipping company and a promise to live life with respect. Respect is what Harvey learns aboard the humble schooner and the reader sees that in his parting words “Great ships these of my father's? Oh yes," But back in Gloucester are the able little vessels. The We're Here, she's one. I owe a heap to her-to her and her crew."
And we owe Kipling our gratitude for a swell tale of a boy who turns out to be the best of men.

Captains Courageous (published in 1897) - Written by Rudyard Kipling

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stalky & Co (Published in 1899) - Written by Rudyard Kipling, a collection of short stories

Rudyard Kipling, a Nobel laureate was born in India to a vivacious Alice Kipling and sculptor Painter, John Kipling. His works range from poems, to children's books. Rudyard was a English language writer whose prose is peppered with colloquial usage and languages mainly from India which opens a window to the prevailing culture and customs of the time. His children's stories are the most endured classics of the time and his short stories are the most sought after. Many of his works are deemed to be controversial as the time progressed. Rudyard Kipling was the product of an imperial India where imperialism under Queen Victoria was at its heights. His poems like White Mans Burden are often sited as a clarion call for the imperialist and has been criticized by subsequent humanists. But as an youngest Nobel Prize recipient for English Language, the place for Kipling in human history cannot be discounted and his prose and poems enthuse millions even today.
Stalky and Co is a collection of stories about adolescent boys who are in a boarding school in a quaint town of Westward Ho!. These stories are influenced by the real life boarding school experiences of Kipling and Stalky is inspired from his friend LC Dunsterville and Beetle being the bespectacled avatar of himself. The others include, M'Turk based on George Charles Beresford, Mr King based on William Carr Crofts and the school is based on the United Services College.



Stalky, the type of self-contained boy who smiles at you as he plots your destruction. McTurk, an Irish aristocrat for whom bad aestheticism is the worst crime. And, refreshingly, Beetle, a bespectacled poet. Their deadly combination wreaks havoc on any schoolmaster unwise enough to set himself in opposition to them. The stories trace their many pranks at school including playing with dead cats, brewing beer and smoking like a chimney. These books are typical Kipling works which involves a collection of interconnected stories with a verse of two peppered in between.
Kipling is taken up completely by Stalky whom he describes to be “in black tights and doublet, a black silk half-mask on his forehead, whistling lazily where he lay on top of the piano” compared to the nearsighted Beetle.
At the end of the stories all the mischief and the pranks enable them to be the person they are, patriotic and able to defend the empire far and wide. At the end of their youth they assemble at the castle of a friend who inherits the title to reminisce and drink to their amazing peers who serve in the army.
Kipling's stories may shock many today especially with the over dose of empire praising. It also borders on Antisemitism and racism with the natives almost relegated inferior. But one has to keep the time and philosophies of the time and judge his books. Stalky and Co may not be compared to other boarding school sagas like “Tom Brown School Days” but has a charm on its own.

Stalky & Co (Published in 1899) - Written by Rudyard Kipling, a collection of short stories