Monday, September 21, 2015

Wharton on James--always good

Just a quick post tonight, as I find myself distracted by baseball ('tis that time of year). I'll just share a bit from Simon Nowell-Smith's wonderful collection of anecdotes of Henry James, The Legend of the Master 1948). The book is full of unforgettable glimpses of James the man, but the best, hands down, come from Edith Wharton, a dear friend who saw him clearly and loved what she saw. This account of James's reactions to parody shows both aspects:
Still more disastrous was the effect of letting him know that any of his writings had been parodied. I had alway regarded the fact of being parodied as one of the surest evidences of fame, and once, when he was staying with us in New York, I brought him with glee a deliciously droll article on his novels by poor Frank Colby, the author of Imaginary Obligations. The effect was disastrous. I shall never forget the misery, the mortification even, which tried to conceal itself behind an air of offended dignity. His ever-bubbling sense of fun failed him completely on such occasions.
I've had James more and more on the brain lately, both leading up to and after our visit to his house in Rye earlier this month. It may finally be time to read Leon Edel's biography.

1 comment:

  1. I had read, on the other hand, that he quite admired Max Beerbohm's parody of his style in A Christmas Garland. Says the Yale Press blurb for the book: "James, the first author parodied, read A Christmas Garland with 'wonder and delight' and called the book 'the most intelligent that has been produced in England for many a long day.'"

    If you are looking for light October reading, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on Joan Aiken's The Haunting of Lamb House, in which James and later Lamb House resident E.F. Benson encounter a ghost. I won't claim that Aiken is as fine at pastiche as Beerbohm, but the concept of the book is so great.