Posts Tagged ‘Henry James’
August 14, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
August 10, 2012 | by The Paris Review
I didn’t think I would ever read another book about Henry James. But here I am, three quarters of the way through Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel, a book-length study—or really, essay—on The Portrait of a Lady. It reads like an old-fashioned work of belles lettres, combining biography, travelogue, and literary history (plus a good deal of helpful synopsis) to explain how and why James wrote his best-loved novel. The explanation is full of grace and deep learning lightly worn. Yet Gorra takes for granted James’s homosexuality, and his sexual knowledge, as well-established facts. In this sense, it is a book of our moment, a hi-def image of the Master coming into his own. —Lorin Stein
The host, for some reason, was taking Instamatic pictures of his guests. It was not clear whether he was doing this in order to be able to show, at some future time, that there had been this gathering in his house. Or whether he thought of pictures in some voodoo sense. Or whether he found it difficult to talk. Or whether he was bored. Two underground celebrities—one of whom had become a sensation by never generating or exhibiting a flicker of interest in anything, the other of whom was known mainly for hanging around the first—were taking pictures too.
I have Lorin to thank for introducing me to Renata Adler’s 1976 first novel, Speedboat. Maybe its unconventional structure (a series of vignettes) and plotline (there isn’t really one) are not for everyone. But for sheer linguistic pleasure, fierce intelligence, and a vivid picture of seventies New York, look no further. I breezed through it in a day and have been recommending it left and right with the kind of excitement I haven’t felt in a long time.—Sadie O. Stein
Bruce Springsteen’s music is the Staff Pick of my heart. “Bobby Jean” and “Secret Garden” give tremble to the word rock, while “Born to Run” accomplishes something in music that Holden Caulfield did in literature, honestly portraying the anxiety of adolescence in a desire to escape. The New Yorker’s profile of Bruce Springsteen is a breathtaking homage to the now sixty-two-year-old rocker, who is set to embark on yet another world tour. The piece follows a young Springsteen watching Elvis on the black-and-white telly, takes us through his years of top-forty glory and out into a political movement that gave hope to the country. The profile shows that there is still heart in the music industry—even if that heart was born in Jersey. —Noah Wunsch
May 4, 2012 | by Lorin Stein
Read lots. That’s the main thing. And not just the books they assign you in class. The Daily gives you a pretty good idea of what books and articles we’re reading; at the very least you'll have something to talk about in the interview. (You should read The Paris Review. Maybe this goes without saying.)
Learn to write. I don’t mean “creative” writing, I mean short-form journalism. If your school has a good student newspaper, sign up. Or start sending pitches to your favorite magazines. The main thing is to write for an editor who can help you improve—tightening sentences, taking yourself out of the picture when you don’t belong, that kind of thing. Being able to write short, competent reports is a surprisingly useful skill—and one that we value here.
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I’m working on a character who is trying to figure out secrets in his family and still hold it intact … I've been reading Albert Camus’s The Fall and loving it, but wondered if you might have any other suggestions for literature dealing with themes of forgiveness to help out with some inspiration?
The first title that pops into my head is Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? Then I hear Henry James: “Yes, and forget her, too.” James wrote lots of novels about forgiveness. The Wings of the Dove, which I have never made it through, The Ambassadors, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Altar of the Dead all turn on acts of forgiveness. If your subject is forgiveness in marriage, you may be inspired by Norman Rush’s Mortals or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead or Jane Smiley’s The Age of Grief. Then there are Jonathan Franzen’s last two novels, Freedom and The Corrections. Forgiveness is a big subject in Franzen’s work, though critics don’'t often point it out. The Corrections is less about marital forgiveness, more about how hard it can be to forgive one’s parents and kids. Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment has to do with forgiveness in divorce. D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers has to do with forgiveness between mothers and sons; Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage has to do with forgiveness between Geoff and D. H. Lawrence ... For some reason everywhere I turn today, I see people asking to be forgiven and trying to forgive. Maybe you can’t go wrong.
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March 28, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
January 27, 2012 | by Lorin Stein
I recently got out of serious relationship. Since then I have not been able to read, though I usually love sad, sappy love stories. Can you recommend some books that have zero romance or love in them? Some good post-breakup fiction?
Readers of this column know my high opinion of the Jeeves books and Life on the Mississippi. They cheer me up, and are rigorously free of mushy scenes. Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land is a post-breakup book, I mean the hero has been dumped by his wife, but really that's the least of his problems—and the one time they get back together (for about two and a half minutes) it’s enough to cure you of the whole idea of coupledom for at least the rest of the day.
Also: How do you feel about dogs? It’s not fiction, and it is full of love, but something tells me J. R. Ackerley’s 1965 memoir, My Dog Tulip—about the unlikely romance between a crusty, middle-aged English bachelor and his German shepherd—might make a welcome distraction.
I was talking to another writer-friend recently about the use of commas. I tend to err on the safe side, slipping too many of them, perhaps, around phrases I think are supposed to be identified. But is this precious or old-fashioned or out of style?
In this Paris Review interview with Mary Karr, she claims to have had a comma stutter in The Liars’ Club. Do you think there’s such a thing as a comma stutter, or is it more like a sentence stutter, reflecting hesitation, or something, from the writer? I’d like to smooth out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Comma Stutterer in Manhattan
A good comma stutter never goes out of style. Where would Henry James be without his commas—or that real-life stutterer Charles Lamb? Here is Lamb on his gruff but cowardly friend John Tipp: “With all this there was about him a sort of timidity—(his few enemies used to give it a worse name)—something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, if you please, a little on this side of the heroic.”
You can, of course, write in comma stutters then simply take out the punctuation. That is what Henry Green liked to do, for example when he describes what it was like to be unpopular at Eton:
These were the days when to be alone was to feel one had escaped for the moment not from any overt bullying but from what appeared to be the threat. There was a strain in trying to keep up with new friendships which probably did not exist. There was the dread of going into a friend's room to find one was not wanted, to be abandoned by the two leaders now that they were too busy to bother and worst of all the self questioning as to why this should be, the fear it might be a peer or one of the school’s racquet players and of what this meant if true. The best was to get away in those few hours we had on our own, to chance being seen lonely in the effort to forget.
Green teaches the reader to hear his pauses, to anticipate his hesitations, and, thus, to think like a man of his class and sensibility. Such is the magic. When women say of a good dancer that he knows how to lead, this must be what they mean.
Then of course there is Gertrude Stein, who so loved the comma stutter that she would abolish the punctuation altogether. This is the typographical equivalent of burning the village to save it:
A long complicated sentence should force itself upon you, make you know yourself knowing it and the comma, well at the most a comma is a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath. Anyway that is the way I felt about it and I felt that about it very very strongly. And so I almost never used a comma. The longer, the more complicated the sentence the greater the number of the same kinds of words I had following one after another, the more the very more I had of them the more I felt the passionate need of their taking care of themselves by themselves and not helping them, and thereby enfeebling them by putting in a comma.
The point is, if your sentences are guided by your feelings, you can race or hesitate as the spirit moves you. Your reader will understand. Read More »
January 10, 2012 | by Jonathan Gharraie
If Alan Bennett needs any introduction at all, I would need more than a paragraph in which to write it. I would start by explaining how, in the early 1960s, he formed the comic revue Beyond the Fringe, along with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Jonathan Miller. I would go on to describe his subsequent half-century of writing for television and the stage, which has included such hugely successful plays as Forty Years On, The Madness of George III, and The History Boys. Perhaps I would round things off by suggesting that he has provided the most authoritative introduction to his own writing life through his wry, tender, autobiographical writings, collected in Writing Home and Untold Stories. His latest book, Smut, includes two long stories, the first of which, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” concerns a formerly staid widower whose life is changed by some adventurous student lodgers. Meanwhile, “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes” describes an intergenerational family romp that is set in motion by the marriage of attractive, vain, and gay Graham Forbes to the outwardly plain Betty, who nonetheless harbors secrets of her own. To find out whether this book represents the sort of “holiday from respectability” that his protagonists take, I talked to him over the phone last Friday morning.
Were these two stories conceived as a pair?
No. Most of the short stories I’ve written have started off because they wouldn’t turn into plays, and certainly the first one in this book, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” has quite a theatrical beginning. The other one probably dates back further. I wrote a play called Habeas Corpus and it’s a bit in that style. It’s a farce and not a realistic story. I think the notion, particularly in the first story, of somebody breaking out, like Mrs. Donaldson, who is breaking out after a fairly humdrum life, keeps recurring. Read More »