Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, July 10, 2017

Discussion Questions July 17

English Hours, conclusion - please post your concluding Henry-related thoughts by the 21st.

  • "In no other country, I imagine, are so many people to be found doing the same thing in the same way at the same time..." Henry was referring not only to "universal church-going" (what a difference a century makes!) but also to things like "using the same slang, wearing the same hats" etc. etc. Has America now surpassed Britain in this regard? What would J.S. Mill say?
  • "The English have more time than we, they have more money, and they have a much higher relish for active leisure... A large appetite for holidays, the ability not only to take them but to know what to do with them when taken, is the sign of a robust people, and judged by this measure we Americans are sadly inexpert." Does this still hold up?
  • Henry writes: "no education avails for the intelligence that doesn’t stir in it some subjective passion, and... almost anything that does so act is largely educative" - Agree? Is our present education system geared to stirring or rewarding subjective passion?
  • Another expat American, T.S. Eliot (from St. Louis, MO) famously said Henry "had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it..." I'd always assumed he intended an insult, but in context (see below*) it reads more like praise - Henry was "the most intelligent man of his generation" etc. What do you think? Are ideas less important than points of view? (Woody Allen: "the brain is the most overrated organ")
  • "I do not think that you have found your subject in this country," William says to Henry in Toibin's The Master, "The English have no spiritual life, only a material one. The only subject here is class... The only striving is material striving... There is no yearning in England, no crying out for truth..." Is this critique born out by Henry's English Hours, or do you think he succeeds in documenting an implicit English "spirit"?
  • William continues (in Toibin's narration): "And I believe that your style has suffered from the strain of constantly dramatizing social insipidity. I think also that something cold and thin-blooded and oddly priggish has come to the fore in your content." He then proposes that Henry write a novel about America and the Puritans, to which Henry replies: "It would be all humbug." Would it? Was William asking Henry to be someone he was not?
  • Regarding the aforementioned allegation that "the English have no spiritual life," Bill Bryson's observation in The Road to Little Dribbling might suggest a rejoinder, at least with respect to one meaning of "spirit"- What do you think? "Spiritualism became curiously popular [about a century ago.] Its adherents included not just Arthur Conan Doyle but also the future prime minister Arthur Balfour, the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, the philosopher William James, and the renowned chemist Sir William Crookes. By about 1910, Britain contained so many devoted spiritualists that they considered forming a political party..."
  • Bryson (pre-Brexit/Dfrumpf) on immigration: "...if you think the only people you should have in your country are the people you produce yourselves, you are an idiot..." Comment?
  • One more Bryson quote: "On tricky and emotive issues like gun control, abortion, capital punishment, the teaching of evolution in schools, the use of stem cells for research, and how much flag waving you have to do in order to be considered acceptably patriotic, Britain is calm and measured and quite grown up..." And by comparison, on these issues, what is the U.S.?
  • Have you personally visited any of Henry's destinations, or researched their present-day incarnations? Do you want to visit any of them yourself, in particular? Do you think you would experience a form of culture shock to take up residence in a place with such a deep historical heritage? How would it impact your "mind" to live in such a place, or alter your worldview?
  • John McDermott, a contemporary American philosopher, likes to say "the nectar is in the journey" - not in any particular destination. It's a statement about life and death, and I'd say its sound advice for any traveler. Would Henry agree with the statement? How might he elaborate and illustrate it?
  • Comment: "The stranger--the American at least--who finds himself in the company of a number of Englishmen assembled for a convivial purpose becomes conscious of an indefinable and delectable something which, for want of a better name, he is moved to call their superior richness of temperament..." Or is it just something about the accent?
  • "If Oxford were not the finest thing in England the case would be clearer for Cambridge... [but] When I say Oxford I mean Cambridge..." What is it about "Oxbridge" that is so captivating to Americans?

  • Stay tuned
  • Post yours

"In 1888, James told his brother, the Harvard philosopher William James, that he wanted to make it impossible for his readers to know whether he was “an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America.” Sometimes he managed the trick and sometimes he didn’t, but one mark of his overall success lies in the different contexts within which his work is now read. That’s especially true of The Portrait of a Lady. It appears as often in discussions of the Victorian novel as it does in those of American literature, and rightfully so. For its richly suggestive picture of what it is to be an American depends, paradoxically, on the way it uses both its European setting and the thematics of European fiction—the marriage plot, the novel of adultery—to mount a critique of American exceptionalism."

"Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece" by Michael Gorra http://a.co/0gGsjkk
*“James's critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it. [...] In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought. [...] James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation." T.S. Eliot, Little Review, 1918

Image result for lamb house ryeImage result for lamb house rye 

Lamb House, Rye, Sussex-

Lamb House was built in 1722 by James Lamb, a wealthy wine merchant and local politician. George I stayed at the house after a storm drove his ship ashore at Camber in 1726... The American novelist Henry James discovered Rye and Lamb House quite by chance whilst visiting an architect friend. He was enchanted by the house and delighted when the chance came to lease it in 1897. He bought it two years later. James wrote three of his novels here, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. He wrote in the garden room, a self-contained building next to the house built in 1743 as a separate banqueting room and destroyed in 1940 during a bombing raid...
"The arrival of William James and his family at Lamb House not only excites conversation on political topics; it activates, at last, scenes and dialogues in the living present, and shows in action the family dynamic that has been dolorously coloring Henry’s recollections. In his older brother’s presence, he takes on a new character and a new name—Harry. He abandons his cagey silence and, in the face of William’s eloquently expressed plea that the novelist return to America and its subject matter (“I believe that the English can never be your true subject. And I believe that your style has suffered from the strain of constantly dramatizing social insipidity”), fights back, in accents almost of rudeness:

**{: .break one} ** “May I interrupt you?” Henry asked. “Or is this a lecture whose finish will be marked by the ringing of a bell?” **

William wants him to write a novel about the Puritans; Harry, closely quoting a letter that the historical Henry James wrote to Sarah Orne Jewett, proposes to end the conversation “by stating clearly to you that I view the historical novel as tainted by a fatal cheapness.” Not just literary matters but family matters—husbandly heart attacks, wifely confidences, adolescent Dickens-reading by Peggy James—spice up these last pages, before the not very revelatory dying fall of the novel’s snug ending.

Henry has recovered his vocation; but we never see it as lost. From early youth, a highly intelligent man commits himself to becoming a writer, and he becomes just that, sacrificing any feeling or attachment that gets in his way: this is the plot. The non-writing Henry, moseying through the Jamesian facts as they have emerged in biographies and published correspondence, less experiences these facts than haunts them, with a luminous blur of a face. There is a soapstone quality to his bust as carved here."John Updike on The Master
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If anyone's interested in learning more of the whole James family, a good place to start is The Jameses: A Family Narrative. (No Frank or Jesse here, notice.)

Some more of Henry's places:

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

For those interested in virtual travel, today would have been Day 2 of the Study Abroad course in England. We would have landed at Heathrow mid-day yesterday, then visited Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill and Dickens' House. We'd be immersing ourselves in the peripatetic history and culture of that storied isle... “The world is a tragedy to those who feel," said Walpole, "but a comedy to those who think.”

“The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.” That's Horace, in whose spirit Bertie Russell conquered happiness.

Walking with Dickens would have been a challenge. He went "far and fast" at all hours. "If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish."

Today we'd do Highgate Cemetery (maybe have a word with Karl Marx) and the Keats and Freud Houses. Tomorrow we'd have visited Darwin's sandwalk and Down House.

And then, on to Henry James's Lamb House... [His favourite walk... In search of HJ... HJ's Sussex... HJ's Rye... Landlord]

Finally today, virtually, Satis House from Dickens' Great Expectations.

Close your eyes, and, as in the Magic Tree House books I used to read with our girls, just say "I want to go there."

It's a much cheaper and less stressful way to travel.

Plus, it leaves my wife and me free to see James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt tonight at Bridgestone Arena!

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