Book Review

Daily Henry James, continued

“September 1, Guy de Maupassant

“It is as difficult to describe an action without glancing at its motive, its moral history, as it is to describe a motive without glancing at its practical consequence.”

Show and tell.

“September 11, Roderick Hudson, 1875

“The moods of an artist, his exultations and depressions, Rowland had often said to himself, were like the pen flourishes a writing master makes in the air when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink, he may hit you in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand.”

Ray Bradbury: Stop having all those moods you’re having and write!

“September 13, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, 1900

“Fate, as if to distinguish him as handsomely as possible, seemed to be ever treating him to some chance for an act or a course that had almost nothing in its favor but its inordinate difficulty. If the difficulty was, in these cases, not all the beauty for him, it at least never prevented his finding in it–or our finding, at any rate, as observers–so much beauty as comes from a great risk accepted either for an idea or for simple joy.”

From RH Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics quoting a letter from Stevenson to his father:

“‘The wisdom of this world consists in making oneself very little, in order to avoid many knocks: in preferring others, in order that, even when we lose, we shall find some pleasure in the event, in putting our desire outside of ourselves, in another ship, so to speak, so that, when the worst happens, there will be something left.

“September 15, The Lesson of the Master, 1892

“‘Ah, perfection, perfection–how one ought to go in for it! I wish I could.’

“‘Everyone can in his way,’ said Paul Overt.

“‘In his way, yes; but not in hers. Women are so hampered–so condemned! But it’s a kind of dishonour if you don’t, when you want to do something, isn’t it?”

“September 26, The Princess Casamassima, 1886

“‘I haven’t the least objection to his feeling badly; that’s not the worst thing in the world! If a few more people felt badly, in this sodden, stolid, stupid race of ours, the world would wake up to an idea or two, and we should see the beginning of the dance. It’s the dull acceptance, the absence of reflection, the impenetrable density.'”

“September 29, The Beast in the Jungle, 1903

“‘Anything else but be interested?’ she asked. ‘Ah, what else does one ever want to be?'”

“September 30, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881

” . . . the healing waters of action.”

“October, New England: An Autumn Impression, 1905

“The apple tree in New England plays the part of the olive in Italy, charges itself with the effect of detail, for the most part otherwise too scantly produced, and, engaged in this charming care, becomes infinitely decorative and delicate. What it must do for the too under-dressed land in May and June is easily supposable; but its office in the early autumn is to scatter coral and gold. The apples are everywhere and every interval, every old clearing, an orchard. You pick them up from under your feet but to bite into them, for fellowship, and throw them away; but as you catch their young brightness in the blue air, where they suggest strings of strange-colored pearls tangled in the knotted boughs, as you notice their manner of swarming for a brief and wasted gayety, they seem to ask to be praised only by the cheerful shepherd and the oaten pipe.”

Yes, but half of those apples are rotten underfoot, brown and mushy. But I love that “tangled in the knotted boughs.”

“October 1, The Ambassadors, 1903

“‘ . . . The wretched self is always there, always making one somehow a fresh anxiety. What it comes to is this, that it’s not, that it’s never, a happiness, any happiness at all, to take. The only safe thing is to give. It’s what plays you least false.'”

“October 5, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881

You think that you can lead a romantic life, that you can live by pleasing yourself and pleasing others. You’ll find you are mistaken. Whatever life you lead you must put your soul into it–to make any sort of success of it; and from the moment you do that it ceases to be romance, I assure you; it becomes reality! And you can’t always please yourself; you must sometimes please other people. That, I admit, you are very ready to do; but there is another thing that is till more important–you must often displease others. You must always be ready for that–you must never shrink from that.”

I wish I had learned that a long time ago.


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