The Notebooks of Henry James

Late in life Henry James destroyed many letters and papers, but several working notebooks survive. By 1881 he had begun to set down each new theme that occurred to him for his fiction, together with a projection of episodes, names of characters, and at intervals remarkable passages of self-criticism. In this summing up, James spoke more intimately of his aspirations than he permitted himself to do in his published autobiographies. The Notebooks, admirably edited by PROFESSORS F. O. MATTHI ESSEN and KENNETH B. MURDOCK of Harvard, are to be published by the Oxford University Press this autumn.

Edited by F. O. MATTHIESSEN and KENNETH B. MURDOCK

When James began the first of the notebooks with his sketch of Confidence, he had completed more than twelve years of apprenticeship to his craft. Daisy Miller had come out in the Cornhill Magazine that summer; and The Europeans had just been serialized by the Atlantic Monthly.But James’s best work was still to come, and his notebooks were to serve him well in his achievement of it. To read them is to see at once many different ways in which they helped him gain that saturation in his material which he always held to be the first requisite for viable art.

London, January 27, 1879. — A story upon some such situation as this. Henry Irving, the actor, broke with the Batemans and got rid of Isabel B. in order to get up Hamlet on a great scale, and replace poor Isabel by Ellen Terry, a much more brilliant attraction. Ellen Terry appears with immense éclat and the thing is a great, success. Isabel lapses into obscurity and is quite forgotten. One may imagine that Ellen Terry falls ill, and that Irving is suddenly in want of a substitute. Casting about for one he bethinks himself of Isabel B. — rejected and wounded, having witnessed the triumph of the other, and brooding over her wrong. Suppose then that, after a short, struggle with her wounded pride, she responds to Irving’s appeal—she sacrifices her resentment — makes herself little — and resumes the part in which Ellen T. has so completely effaced her. The sacrifice is an heroic one — that of a woman’s most passionate personal vanity. Explanation and revelation — because she is secretly in love with the great actor. These circumstances might easily be changed; the idea, otherwise arranged, would remain the special sort of sacrifice made by a woman — and its motive.

James’s continuing interest in situations dealing with the life of the theater found its fullest expression,a decade later, in The Tragic Muse (1890) and in the story “Nona Vincent" (1892).

London, February 21, 1879. — In a story, some one says — “Oh yes, the United States — a country without a sovereign, without a court, without a nobility, without an army, without a church or a clergy, without a diplomatic service, without a picturesque peasantry, without palaces or castles, or country seats, or ruins, without a literature, without novels, without an Oxford or a Cambridge, without cathedrals or ivied churches, without latticed cottages or village ale-houses, without political society, without sport, without fox-hunting or country gentlemen, without an Epsom or an Ascot, an Eton or a Rugby. . . !!”

James presently incorporated this passage, almost word for word, into his biography of Hawthorne (1879), where he made it constitute his well-known enumeration of “the items of high civilization, as it exists in other countries, which are absent from the texture of American life.”His one significant alteration was to drop “a picturesque peasantry" and to add “no museums, no pictures.”Many critics have noted, that such an enumeration throws more light on James than on Hawthorne, and that fact, as well as the rhetorical flourish that has given the passage its qnotability, seems accounted for by its having originally been conceived in the terms of James’s own fiction.

Brunswick Hotel, Boston, November 25, 1881. — Here I am back in America . . . after six years of absence, and likely while here to see and learn a great deal that ought not to become mere waste material. Here I am, da vero, and here I am likely to be for the next five months. I am glad I have come — it was a wise thing to do. I needed to see again les miens, to revive my relations with them, and my sense of the consequences that these relations entail. Such relations, such consequences, are a part of one’s life, and the best life, the most complete, is the one that takes full account of such things. One can only do this by seeing one’s people from time to time, by being with them, by entering into their lives. Apart from this I hold it was not necessary I should come to this country. I am 37 years old [he was actually 38], I have made my choice, and God knows that I have now no time to waste. My choice is the old world — my choice, my need, my life. There is no need for me today to argue about this; it is an inestimable blessing to me, and a rare good fortune, that the problem was settled long ago, and that I have now nothing to do but to act on the settlement.

My impressions here are exactly what I expected they would be, and I scarcely see the place, and feel the manners, the race, the tone of things, now that I am on the spot, more vividly than I did while I was still in Europe. My work lies there — and with this vast new world, je n’ai que faire. One can’t do both — one must choose. No European writer is called upon to assume that terrible burden, and it seems hard that I should be. The burden is necessarily greater for an American — for he must deal, more or less, even if only by implication, with Europe; whereas no European is obliged to deal in the least with America. No one dreams of calling him less complete for not doing so. (I speak of course of people who do the sort of work that I do; not of economists, of social science people.) The painter of manners who neglects America is not thereby incomplete as vet; but a hundred years hence — fifty years hence perhaps — he will doubtless be accounted so. My impressions of America, however, I shall, after all, not write here. I don’t need to write them (at least not a propos of Boston); I know too well what they are. In many ways they are extremely pleasant; but, Heaven forgive me! I feel as if my time were terribly wasted here! . . .

If I had nothing better to do, I might indulge in a retrospect that would be interesting and even fruitful. . . . I could remember without effort with what an irresistible longing I turned to Europe, with what ardent yet timid hopes, with what indefinite yet inspiring intentions, I took leave of les miens. I recall perfectly the maturing of my little plan to get abroad again and remain for years, during the summer of 1875; the summer the latter part of which I spent in Cambridge. It came to me there on my return from New York where I had been spending a bright, cold, unremunerative, uninteresting winter, finishing Roderick Hudson and writing for the Nation. (It was these two tasks that kept me alive.) I had returned from Europe the year before that, the beginning of September, ‘74, sailing for Boston with Wendell Holmes and his wife as my fellow passengers.

I had come back then to “try New York,” thinking it my duty to attempt to live at home before I should grow older, and not take for granted too much that Europe alone was possible; especially as Europe for me then meant simply Italy, where I had had some very discouraged hours, and which, lovely and desirable though it was, didn’t seem as a permanent residence, to lead to anything. I wanted something more active, and I came back and sought it in New York. I came back with a certain amount of scepticism, but with very loyal intentions, and extremely eager to be “interested.” As I say, I was interested but imperfectly, and I very soon decided what was the real issue of my experiment. It was by no means equally soon, however, that I perceived how I should be able to cross the Atlantic again. But the opportunity came to me at last. — it loomed before me one summer’s day, in Quincy St. The best thing I could imagine then was to go and take up my abode in Paris. I went (sailing about October 20th, 1875) and I settled myself in Paris with the idea that I should spend several years there. This was not really what I wanted; what I wanted was London — and Paris was only a stopgap. But London appeared to me then impossible. I believed that I might arrive there in the fulness of years, but there were all sorts of obstacles to my attempting to live there then. I wonder greatly now, in the light of my present knowledge of England, that these obstacles should have seemed so large, so overwhelming and depressing as they did at that time. . . .

I went to Paris, and lived for a year at 29 Rue de Luxembourg (now Rue Cambon). I shall not attempt to write the history of that year—further than to say that it was time by no means misspent. I learned to know Paris and French affairs much better than before. . . . In the spring, at Madame Turgenieff’s, I made the acquaintance of Paul Joukowsky. Non ragioniam di luima guarda e passa. I don’t speak of Ivan Turgenieff, most delightful and lovable of men, nor of Gustave Flaubert, whom I shall always be so glad to have known; a powerful, serious, melancholy, manly, deeply corrupted, yet not corrupting, nature. There was something I greatly liked in him, and he was very kind to me. He was a head and shoulders above the others, the men I saw at his house on Sunday afternoons — Zola, Goncourt, Daudet, etc. (I mean as a man — not as a talker, etc.) I remember in especial one afternoon (a weekday) that I went to see him and found him alone. I sat with him a long time; something led him to repeat to me a little poem of Th. Gautier’s — Les Vieux Portraits (what led him to repeat it was that we had been talking of French poets, and he had been expressing his preference for Theophile Gautier over Alfred de Musset — il était plus français, etc.) I went that winter a great deal to the Comédie Française—though not so much as when I was in Paris in '72. Then I went every night — or almost. And I have been a great deal since. I may say that I know the Comédie Française.

Of course I saw a great deal of the little American “set” — the American village encamped en plein Paris. They were all very kind, very friendly, hospitable, etc.; they knew up to a certain point their Paris. But ineffably tiresome and unprofitable. Their society had become a kind of obligation, and it had much to do with my suddenly deciding to abandon my plans of indefinite residence, take flight to London and settle there as best I could, I remember well what a crime Mrs. S. made of my doing so; and one or two other persons as to whom I was perfectly unconscious of having given them the right to judge my movements so intimately. Nothing is more characteristic of certain American women than the extraordinary promptitude with which they assume such a right. I remember how Paris had, in a hundred ways, come to weary and displease me; I couldn’t get out of the detestable American Paris. Then I hated the Boulevards, the horrible monotony of the new quarters. I saw, moreover, that I should be an eternal outsider. I went to London in November, 1876. . . .

I don’t remember what suddenly brought me to the point of saying — “Go to; I will try London.” I think a letter from William had a good deal to do with it, in which he said, “Why don’t you? — That must be the place.” A single word from outside often moves one (moves me at least) more than the same word infinitely multiplied as a simple voice from within. I did try it, and it has succeeded beyond my most ardent hopes. As I think I wrote just now, I have become passionately fond of it; it is an anchorage for life. Here I sit scribbling in my bedroom at a Boston hotel — on a marble-topped table! — and conscious of a ferocious homesickness — a homesickness which makes me think of the day when I shall next see the white cliffs of old England loom through their native fog, as one of the happiest of my life!

The history of the five years I have spent in London — a pledge, I suppose, of many future years — is too long, and too full to write. I can only glance at it here. I took a lodging at 3 Bolton St., Piccadilly; and there I have remained till today — there I have left my few earthly possessions, to await my return. I have lived much there, felt much, thought much, learned much, produced much; the little shabby furnished apartment ought to be sacred to me. I came to London as a complete stranger, and today I know much too many people. J’y suis absolument comme chez moi. Such an experience is an education — it fortifies the character and embellishes the mind. It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent. You can draw up a tremendous list of reasons why it should be insupportable. The fogs, the smoke, the dirt, the darkness, the wet, the distances, the ugliness, the brutal size of the place, the horrible numerosity of society, the manner in which this senseless bigness is fatal to amenity, to convenience, to conversation, to good manners — all this and much more you may expatiate upon. You may call it dreary, heavy, stupid, dull, inhuman, vulgar at heart and tiresome in form. I have felt these things at times so strongly that I have said — “Ah London, you too then are impossible?”

But these are occasional moods; and for one who takes it as I take it, London is on the whole the most, possible form of life. I take it as an artist and as a bachelor; as one who has the passion of observation and whose business is the study of human life. It is the biggest aggregation of human life—the most complete compendium of the world. The human race is better represented there than anywhere else, and if you learn to know your London you learn a great many things.

February 9, 1882, 102 Mt. Vernon St., Boston.— When I began to make these rather ineffectual records I had no idea that I should have in a few weeks to write such a tale of sadness as today. I came back from Washington on the 30th of last month (reached Cambridge the next day), to find that I should never again see my dear mother. On Sunday, Jan. 29th, as Aunt Kate sat with her in the closing dusk (she had been ill with an attack of bronchial asthma, but was apparently recovering happily), she passed away. It makes a great difference to me! I knew that I loved her — but I didn’t know how tenderly till I saw her lying in her shroud in that cold North Room, with a dreary snowstorm outside, and looking as sweet and tranquil and noble as in life. . . .

It is impossible for me to say — to begin to say — all that has gone down into the grave with her. She was our life, she was the house, she was the keystone of the arch. She held us all together, and without her we are scattered reeds. She was patience, she was wisdom, she was exquisite maternity. Her sweetness, her mildness, her great natural beneficence were unspeakable, and it is infinitely touching to me to write about her here as one that was. When I think of all that she had been, for years — when I think of her hourly devotion to each and all of us — and that when I went to Washington the last of December I gave her my last kiss, I heard her voice for the last time — there seems not to be enough tenderness in my being to register the extinction of such a life. But I can reflect, with perfect gladness, that her work was done—her long patience had done its utmost. She had had heavy cares and sorrows, which she had borne without a murmur, and the weariness of age had come upon her. I would rather have lost her forever than see her begin to suffer as she would probably have been condemned to suffer, and I can think with a kind of holy joy of her being lifted now above all our pains and anxieties. Her death has given me a passionate belief in certain transcendent things — the immanence of being as nobly created as hers — the immortality of such a virtue as that — the reunion of spirits in better conditions than these. She is no more of an angel today than she had always been; but I can’t believe that by the accident of her death all her unspeakable tenderness is lost to the beings she so dearly loved. She is with us, she is of us — the eternal stillness is but a form of her love. One can hear her voice in it — one can feel, forever, the inextinguishable vibration of her devotion. I can’t help feeling that in those last weeks I was not tender enough with her — that I was blind to her sweetness and beneficence. One can’t help wishing one had only known what was coming, so that, one might have enveloped her with the softest affection. When I came back from Europe I was struck with her being worn and shrunken, and now I know that she was very weary. She went about her usual activities, but the burden of life had grown heavy for her, and she needed rest. There is something inexpressibly touching to me in the way in which, during these last years, she went on from year to year without it. If she could only have lived she should have had it, and it would have been a delight to see her have it. But she has it now, in the most complete perfection!

Grand Hôtel, Paris, November 11,1882. — The dramatic form seems to me the most beautiful thing possible; the misery of the thing is that the baseness of the English-speaking stage affords no setting for it. How I am to reconcile this with the constant solicitation that presses upon me, both from within and from without, to get at work upon another novel, is more than I can say. It is surely the part of wisdom, however, not to begin another novel at once — not to commit myself to a work of longue haleine. I must do short things, in such measure as I need, which will leave me intervals for dramatic work. I say this rather glibly — and yet I sometimes feel a woeful hunger to sit down to another novel. If I can only concentrate myself: this is the great lesson of life. I have hours of unspeakable reaction against my smallness of production; my wretched habits of work — or of un-work; my levity, my vagueness of mind, my perpetual failure to focus my attention, to absorb myself, to look things in the face, to invent, to produce, in a word. I shall be 40 years old in April next: it’s a horrible fact! I believe however that I have learned how to work and that it is in moments of forced idleness, almost alone, that these melancholy reflections seize me. When I am really at work, I’m happy, I feel strong, I see many opportunities ahead. It is the only thing that makes life endurable. I must make some great efforts during the next few years, however, if I wish not to have been on the whole a failure. I shall have been a failure unless I do something great!

James’s special concern for names, vividly shown in the notebooks, is also testified to elsewhere. In “Mora Montravers" (1909), for example, one of Mr. and Mrs. Traffle’s difficulties as they contemplate Mora’s marriage to Walter Puddick is their dislike — and hers—for his name. And in Edith Wharton’s A Backward Glance there is a particularly revealing passage. James, she writes, was “pleased" by “the magic of ancient names, quaint or impressive, crabbed or melodious. These he would murmur over and, over to himself in a low chant, finally creating characters to fit them, and sometimes whole families, with their domestic complications and matrimonial alliances, such as the Dymmes of Dymchurch, one of whom married a Sparkle, and was the mother of little Scintilla Dymme-Sparkle, subject of much mirth and many anecdotes.”Names left over from one story James would thriftily save for use in another.

London, January 2, 1884. — Names. Daintry — Vandeleur — Grunlus - Christian names: Florimond Ambrose — Mathias — Surnames: Benyon -Pinder — Vallance — Nugent — Maze — Dinn -Fiddler — Higgs. Most of them are out of the Times of the above date. Very rich. — ChancellorAmbient

August 10, 1885. — It is absolutely necessary that at this point I should make the future evolution of the Princess Casamassima more clear to myself. I have never yet become engaged in a novel in which, after I had begun to write and send off my MS., the details had remained so vague. This is partly - or indeed wholly — owing to the fact that I have been so terribly preoccupied — up to so lately — with the unhappy Bostonians, born under an evil star. The subject of the Princess is magnificent, and if I can only give up my mind to it properly—generously and trustfully — the form will shape itself as successfully as the idea deserves. I have plunged in rather blindly, and got a good many characters on my hands; but these will fall into their places if I keep cool and think it out. Oh art, art, what difficulties are like thine; but, at the same time, what consolation and encouragements, also, are like thine? Without thee, for me, the world would be, indeed, a howling desert. The Princess will give me hard, continuous work for many months to come; but she will also give me joys too sacred to prate about.

The Princess Casamassima appeared serially in the Atlantic Monthly (September, 1885-October, 1886). James hoped that it would prove “more popular" than The Bostonians, bid at the beginning of 1888, he wrote to Howells, who had hailed the Princess as hisgreatest novel so far: “I have entered upon evil days. . . . I am still staggering a good deal under the mysterious and (to me) inexplicable injury wroughtapparently — upon my situation by my two last novels, the Bostonians and the Princess, from which I expected so much and derived so little. They have reduced the desire, and the demand, for my productions to zero. . . .”

These two books constituted James’s attempt to handle the Dickensian type of social novel. Into the Princess he poured the distillation of his tong observation of London’s streets, in an effort to suggest the dark heaving of revolt, “irreconcilably, subversively, beneath the vast smug surface.” His preface is one of his most eloquent defenses of the novel of intelligence, of the use of such “intense percenters” as his tragic young hero, Hyacinth Robinson.

August 22, 1885. — One does nothing of value in art or literature unless one has some general ideas, and if one has a few such, constituting a motive and a support, those flippancies and vulgarities (abusive reviews in newspapers) are the last thing one troubles about.

Florence, January 12, 1887. — Hamilton (V. L.’s brother) told me a curious thing of Capt. Silsbee — the Boston art-critic and Shelley-worshipper; that is of a curious adventure of his. Miss Claremont [Clairmont is the usual form of the name, and the one used by James in his preface to The Aspern Papers], Byron’s ci-devant mistress (the mother of Allegra), was living, until lately, here in Florence, at a great age, 80 or thereabouts, and with her lived her niece, a younger Miss Claremont - of about 50. Silsbee knew that they had interesting papers — letters of Shelley’s and Byron’s — he had known it for a long time and cherished the idea of getting hold of them. To this end he laid the plan of going to lodge with the Misses Claremont — hoping that the old lady in view of her great age and failing condition would die while he was there, so that he might, then put his hand upon the documents, which she hugged close in life. He carried out this scheme — and things se passèrent as he had expected. The old woman did die — and then he approached the younger one—the old maid of 50 — on the subject of his desires. Her answer was — “I will give you all the letters if you marry me!” H. says that Silsbee court encore. Certainly there is a little subject there: the picture of the two faded, queer, poor and discredited old English women — living on into a strange generation, in their musty corner of a foreign town — with these illustrious letters their most precious possession. Then the plot of the Shelley fanatic — his watchings and waitings — the way he couvers the treasure.

The denouement needn’t be the one related of poor Silsbee; and at any rate the general situation is in itself a subject and a picture. It strikes me much. The interest would be in some price that the man has to pay—that the old woman — or the survivor — sets upon the papers. His hesitations his struggle — for he really would give almost anything. The Countess Gamba came in while I was there: her husband is a nephew of the Guiccioli — and it was à propos of their having a lot of Byron’s letters of which they are rather illiberal and dangerous guardians, that H. told me the above. I hey won’t show them or publish any of them and the Countess was very angry once on H.’s representing to her that it was her duty — especially to the English public! — to let them at least be seen. Elle se fiche bien of the English public. She says the letters — addressed in Italian to the Guiccioli — are discreditable to Byron; and H. elicited from her that she had burned one of them!

The situation in James’s The Aspern Papers is the one outlined in the first part of the note above, bvi Shelley has been disguised as an American poet, and Florence has become Venice.

James added to the notebook sketch by suggesting strongly that the old lady, Juliana, schemed to make the seeker for Jeffrey Aspern’s papers marry the younger one, Tina, as the price of seeing them. After Juliana dies, Tina virtually offers him the relics if he will marry her. He runs away, then wavers — only to discover that Tina will not have him now that she realizes that he cannot love her. The story ends with her destruction of the papers and his discomfited departure. Juliana is made a kind of symbol of what James, as Ins preface shows, wanted to see in theByronicage, and her constant masking of her eyes heightens the mystery which hangs about her in a time very different from that in which she was a poet s mistress. Tina, whose transparent honesty borders on downright stupidity, supplies a sharp contrast, and in developing this James goes beyond the notebook to set up tension between the romantic charm of aByronicworld, and the simpler aspect of later American characters.

James’s interest in names, already alluded to, is here profitably used to enhance his characterization and setting. Tina talks of the days when she and Juliana first came to Italy, and says that they led a “brilliant life.”It was Miss Tina who judged it brilliant. . . . I asked her what people they had known and she said Oh very nice onesthe Cavaliere Bombicci and the Contessa Altemura, with whom they had had a great friendship! Also English peoplethe Churtons and the Goldies and Mrs. StockStock, whom they had loved dearly.” The very sound of the names adds to the irony implicit in Tina’s magnifying into brilliance a society sadly inglorious in comparison with Juliana’s romantic past.

Evan Charteris, in his John Sargent, tells the same story that James heard about Captain Silsbee, and also quotes Vernon Lee on that “typical American skip-per” with a passion for Shelley. This suggests that “Hamilton (V. L.’s brother)” was Eugene LeeHamilton, half brother of Vernon Lee.

James wrote The Aspern Papers soon after he heard the story, for it was published in the Atlantic Monthly in March-May, 1888.

London, May 12, 1889. — I interrupt some other work this moist still Sunday morning to make a few notes on the subject of the play I have engaged to write for Edward Compton. I needn’t go over the little history of this engagement and the reasons they are familiar enough — which led me to respond to the proposal coming to me from him while I was in Paris last December. I had practically given up my old, valued, long cherished dream of doing something for the stage, for fame’s sake, and art’s, and fortune’s: overcome by the vulgarity, the brutality, the baseness of the condition of the English-speaking theatre today. But after an interval, a long one, the vision has revived, on a new and a very much humbler basis, and especially under the lash of necessity. Of art or fame il est maintenant fort peu question: I simply must try, and try seriously, to produce half a dozen — a dozen, five dozen — plays for the sake of my pocket, my material future. Of how little money the novel makes for me I needn’t discourse here. The theatre has sought me out — in the person of the good, the yet unseen, Compton. I have listened and considered and reflected, and the matter is transposed to a minor key. To accept the circumstances, in their extreme humility, and do the best I can in them: this is the moral of my present situation. They are the reverse of ideal — but there is this great fact that for myself at least I may make them better. To take what there is, and use it, without waiting forever in vain for the preconceived — to dig deep into the actual and get something out of that this doubtless is the right way to live. If I succeed a little I can easily — I think — succeed more. . . . And if there is money in it that will greatly help: for all the profit, that may come to me in this way will mean real freedom for one’s general artistic life: it all hangs together (time, leisure, independence for “real literature,” and, in addition, a great deal of experience of tout un côté de la vie). Therefore my plan is to try with a settled resolution — that is, with a full determination to return repeatedly to the charge, overriding, annihilating, despising the boundless discouragements, disgusts, écœurements. One should use such things — grind them to powder.

His proposal is that I shall make a play of the American, and there is no doubt a play in it. I must extract the simplest, strongest, baldest, most rudimentary, at once most humorous and most touching one, in a form whose main souci shall be pure situation and pure point combined with pure brevity. Oh, how it must not be too good and how very bad it must be! À moi, Scribe; à moi, Sardou, à moi, Dennery! - Reduced to its simplest expression, and that reduction must be my play, The American is the history of a plain man who is at the same time a fine fellow, who becomes engaged to the daughter of a patrician house, being accepted by her people on acct. of his wealth, and is then thrown over (by them) for a better match: after which he turns upon them to recover his betrothed (they have bullied her out of it), through the possession of a family secret which is disgraceful to them, dangerous to them, and which he holds over them as an instrument of compulsion and vengeance. They are frightened — they feel the screw: they dread exposure; but in the novel the daughter is already lost to the hero — she is swept away by the tragedy, takes refuge in a convent, breaks off her other threatened match, renounces the world, disappears. The hero, injured, outraged, resentful, feels the strong temptation to punish the Bellegardes, and for a day almost yields to it. Then he does the characteristically magnanimous thing—the characteristically good-natured thing throws away his opportunity — lets them “off" — lets them go. In the play he must, do this — but get his wife.

With the composition of The American, which he thought for a while of calling The Californian, James hoped to begin the realization of his dream of writing successfully for the theater. He worked out a four-act structure, but by providing a happy ending he produced a piece less substantial and less moving than his novel. His letters at the time are filled with excitement and expectation over this new venture, as is the journal of Alice James, who in an English sanitarium at this juncture was her brother’s close confidante.

The American, with Edward, Compton in the role of Christopher Newman, and his wife, Virginia Bateman, in that of Claire de Cintré, went through a promising tour in the provinces. It came to London in the autumn of 1891 for only a moderate successa two months’ run.

By the time of that production James had also completed four other plays, Tenants, Disengaged, The Album, and The Reprobate, though none of these reached the stage. But he was still full of hopes, and wrote to William James:I feel at last as if I had found my real form, which I am capable of carrying far.” But as Granville-Barker has remarked, it was too bad that James knew as his model the French theater at one of its worst periods.

Marine Hotel, Kingstown, Ireland, July 13, 1891. — I must hammer away at the effort to do, successfully and triumphantly, a large number of very short things. I have done ½ a dozen, lately, but it takes time and practice to get into the trick of it. I have never attempted before to deal with such extreme brevity. However, the extreme brevity is a necessary condition only for some of them — the others may be of varying kinds and degrees of shortness. I needn’t go into all my reasons and urgencies over again here; suffice it that they are cogent and complete. I must absolutely not tie my hands with promised novels if I wish to keep them free for a genuine and sustained attack on the theatre. That is one cogent reason out of many; but the artistic one would be enough even by itself. What I call the artistic one par excellence is simply the consideration that, by doing short things I can do so many, touch so many subjects, break out in so many places, handle so many of the threads of life.

However, I have threshed all this out; it exists, in my mind, in the shape of absolutely digested and assimilated motive — inspiration deep and clear. The upshot of all such reflections is that I have only to let. myself go! So I have said to myself all my life — so I said to myself in the far-off days of my fermenting and passionate youth. Yet I have never fully done it. The sense of it — of the need of it — rolls over me at times with commanding force: it seems the formula of my salvation, of what remains to me of a future. I am in full possession of accumulated resources — I have only to use them, to insist, to persist, to do something more — to do much more — than I have done. The way to do it — to affirm one’s self sur la fin — is to strike as many notes, deep, full and rapid, as one can. All life is — at my age, with all one’s artistic soul the record of it — in one’s pocket, as it were. Go on, my boy, and strike hard; have a rich and long St. Martin’s Summer. Try everything, do everything, render everything — be an artist, be distinguished, to the last. One has one’s doubts and discouragements — but they are only so many essential vibrations of one’s ideal. The field is still all round me, to be won; it blooms with the flowers that are still to be plucked. But enough of the general, these things are the ambient air; they are the breath of one’s artistic and even of one’s personal life. Strike, strike, again and again and again, at the special; I have only to live and to work, to look and to feel, to gather, to note. My cadres all there; continue, ah, continue, to fill them.

London, Saturday, January 12, 1895. — Note here the ghost-story told me at Addington (evening of Thursday 10th), by the Archbishop of Canterbury: the mere vague, undetailed, faint sketch of it — being all he had been told (very badly and imperfectly), by a lady who had no art of relation, and no clearness: the story of the young children (indefinite number and age) left to the care of servants in an old country-house, through the death, presumably, of parents. The servants, wicked and depraved, corrupt and deprave the children; the children are bad, full of evil, to a sinister degree. The servants die (the story vague about the way of it) and their apparitions, figures, return to haunt the house and children, to whom they seem to beckon, whom they invite and solicit, from across dangerous places, the deep ditch of a sunk fence, etc. — so that the children may destroy themselves, lose themselves, by responding, by getting into their power. So long as the children are kept from them, they are not lost; but they try and try and try, these evil presences, to get. hold of them. It. is a question of the children “coming over to where they are.” It is all obscure and imperfect, the picture, the story, but there is a suggestion of strangely gruesome effect in it. The story to be told — tolerably obviously — by an outside spectator, observer.

The Turn of the Screw (Collier’s Weekly, February 5—April 16, 1898) has in recent years been frequently interpreted in Freudian terms — as a fantasy conjured up by the children’s governess (who is the narrator) as a result of her own neurotic repression. It is therefore worth noting that the anecdote from which James started posited both that the children had been corrupted and that they were still being influenced by the apparitions of the dead servants. James is again explicit on this point in his preface, where he discusses the kind of ghost story he was attempting in his imagined treatment of demonic possession. He added his incisive formulation of how to create a sense of evil: “ Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough . . . and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.”

London, January 23, 1895. — I take up my own old pen again — the pen of all my old unforgettable efforts and sacred struggles. To myself— today — I need say no more. Large and full and high the future still opens. It is now indeed that I may do the work of my life. And I will. . . . I have only to face my problems. . . . But all that is of the ineffable — too deep and pure for any utterance. Shrouded in sacred silence let it rest.

The significance of this entry is that James had just faced the unfavorable reception of Guy Domville. But instead of being crushed by the collapse of his hopes of working for the theater, or bewailing that he had spent so much time in vain, he felt a resurgence of new energy. He had written to Howells just the day before making this note; but though he was aware of “evil days,”he also said: “ I mean to do far better work than ever I have done before. I have, potentially, improved, immensely and am bursting with ideas and subjects — though the act of composition is with me more and more slow, painful and difficult.”He noted, as a challenge to himself: “Produce again — produce; produce better than ever, and all will yet be well.”