On the 98th Anniversary of the Death of the Great Author Henry James, who died in London on 28 February 1916
Having spent the last two months reading the final volume of Leon Edel’s vast biography of Henry James, it was with many poignant and sympathetic feelings that I came to the last chapters of the book just yesterday, which dealt with the tragedy of the onset of World War I, and ultimately, the Master’s death. His initial reaction to news of war, in a letter to a friend, was to see it as “a nightmare from which there is no waking save by sleep” and as living under “the funeral spell of our murdered civilisation.” He spent a great deal of time in London, visiting wounded soldiers in the hospitals, chatting with them about the little details of life, providing them through his calm and measured presence with the peace of ordinary life—he knew the very right note to strike.
In the last days of his life, felled by two strokes in two days, he struggled valiantly to use his words to find his way. His secretary and amanuensis, Theodora Bosanquet, dutifully typed out his words as he spoke, as she had been doing for the previous thirteen years. His great mind wandered through the years of his life; he often thought he was in other cities than London, and with other people, many of them long dead. One of the very last coherent conversations he had was with Mrs. William James, who had travelled across an Atlantic Ocean threatened by German submarines to be at her brother-in-law’s bedside, as she had promised her late husband she would be. Henry expressed the wish that her sons “had connections” in England.
“You are their connection with England and Europe,” Mrs. Williams James said.
“Yes, I know, and I should say, without being fatuous, with the future,” said Henry.
“With the future always. They will try to follow you.”
“Tell them to follow, to be faithful, to take me seriously.”
Let us praise Henry James by taking him seriously. I invite my fellow writers and readers of great fiction to contemplate and find enrichment in some of the Master’s ruminations about our craft.
“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it, forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.” ― Theory of Fiction
“It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.” –The Art of Fiction
“If you have work to do, don't wait to feel like it; set to work and you will feel like it.”
― Roderick Hudson
“Nothing, of course, will ever take the place of the good old fashion of ‘liking’ a work of art or not liking it; the more improved criticism will not abolish that primitive, that ultimate, test.”
― The Art of Fiction
― The Art of Fiction
“To put all that is possible of one’s idea into a form and compass that will contain and express it only by delicate adjustments and an exquisite chemistry, so that there will be at the end neither a drop of one’s liquor left nor a hair’s breadth of the rim of one’s glass to spare—every artist will remember how often that sort of necessity has carried with it its particular inspiration.”
“To revise is to see, or to look over, again—which means in the case of the written thing neither more nor less than to re-read it. I had attached to it [revision], in a brooding spirit, the idea of re-writing—with which it was to have in the event, for my conscious play of mind, almost nothing in common.”
And some personal advice from Mr. James: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” (from a letter to a friend)