Book Review

Daily Henry James, Part III

To continue with the passages I underlined:

“May 5, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887

“It has become the fashion to be effective at the expense of the sitter, to make some little point, or inflict some little dig, with a heated party air, rather than to catch a talent in the facet, follow its lines and put a ringer on its essence: so that the exquisite art of criticism, smothered in grossness, finds itself turned into a question of ‘sides.'”

I think agree with that.

“May 9, The Madonna of the Future, 1873

“‘You see I have the great advantage that I lose no time. These hours I spend with you are pure profit. They are suggestive! Just as the truly religious soul is always at worship, the genuine artist is always in labour. He takes his property wherever he finds it, and learns some precious secret from every object that stands up in the light. If you but knew the rapture of observation!”

Reminding of when James Thurber’s wife, at a party, said to him as he stared off into space vacantly, “Stop writing!” Also, it really is true, observation is rapture, or at least often can be.

“May 10, The Wings of the Dove, 1903

“He had thought, no doubt, from the day he was born, much more than he had acted; except indeed that he remembered thoughts–a few of them–which at the moment of their coming to him had thrilled him almost like adventures.”

They were.

“May 13, Eugene Pickering, 1874

“It wasn’t life; life is learning to know oneself.”

“May 20, The Lesson of Balzac, 1905

“‘Complete’ is of course a great word, and there is no art at all, we are often reminded, that is not on too many sides an abject compromise. The element of compromise is always there; it is of the essence; we live with it, and it may serve to keep us humble. The formula of the whole matter is sufficiently expressed perhaps in a reply I found myself once making to an inspired but discouraged friend, a fellow-craftsman who had declared in his despair that there was no use trying, that it [the novel] was a form absolutely too difficult. ‘Too difficult indeed; yet there is one way to master it–which is to pretend consistently that it isn’t.'”

Faulkner: Trying to write a novel is like trying to build a chicken coop with one hand tied behind your back in the middle of a hurricane.

“May 23, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881

“She was wanting in distinction, but, as Isabel had said, she was brave, and one never quite saw the end of the value of that.”

“May 25, Emerson, 1887

“We have the impression, somehow, that life had never bribed him to look at anything but the soul; and indeed in the world in which he grew up and lived the bribes and lures, the beguilements and prizes, were few. He was in an admirable position for showing, what he constantly endeavored to show, that the prize was within.”

The kingdom of God is within you.

“May 26, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881

“‘You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking romantic views–that is your great illusion, my dear. But we can’t. You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please no-one at all–not even yourself.'”

“June 1, Charles Baudelaire, 1878

“To deny the relevance of subject-matter and the importance of the moral quality of a work of art strikes us as, in two words, very childish. We do not know what the great moralists would say about the matter–they would probably treat it very good-humouredly; but that is not the question. There is very little doubt what the great artists would say. People of that temper feel that the whole thinking man is one, and that to count out the moral element in one’s appreciation of an artistic total is exactly as sane as it would be (if the total were a poem) to eliminate all the words in three syllables, or to consider only such portions of it as had been written by candle-light.”

Watch out, Charles.

“June 9, Guy de Maupassant, 1888

“What it is a question of an artistic process we must always distrust very sharp distinctions, for there is surely in every living method a little of every other method.”

“June 10, Charles Baudelaire, 1878

“People of a large taste prefer rich works to poor ones and they are not inclined to assent to the assumption that the process is the whole work. We are safe in believing that all this is comfortably clear to most of those who have, in any degree, been initiated into art by production. For the the subject is as much a part of their work as their hunger is a part of their dinner. Baudelaire was not so far from being of this way of thinking as some of his admirers would persuade us; yet we may say on the whole that he was the victim of a grotesque illusion. He tried to make fine verses on ignoble subjects, and in our opinion he signally failed. He gives, as a poet, a perpetual impression of discomfort and pain. He went in search of corruption, and the ill-conditioned jade proved a thankless muse. The thinking reader, feeling himself, as a critic, all one, as we have said, finds the beauty nullified by the ugliness.”

No comment.

“June 19, George Sand, 1878

“On one side an extraordinary familiarity with the things of the mind, the play of character, the psychological mystery, and a beautiful clearness and quietness, a beautiful instinct of justice in dealing with them; on the other side a startling absence of delicacy, of reticence, of the sense of certain spiritual sanctities and reserves.”

“June 25, Roderick Hudson, 1875

“Gloriani with his head on one side, pulling his long moustache and looking keenly from half-closed eyes at the lighted marble, represented art with a worldly motive, skill unleavened by faith, the mere base maximum of cleverness.”

I recall reading John Gardner saying that to be a novelist one needed, for want of a better word, “faith.”


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