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Monday, November 15, 2010

Literary Detours: Henry James' "Daisy Miller and Other Stories"

Why in the name of all that is sane and logical did I begin reading James' "Daisy Miller" days from Paul Auster's "Sunset Park" being released? The only answer to this dilemma, I believe, can be found in my reading list for next year. I will be re-reading "The Portrait of a Lady," a novel, which, having the displeasure of remembering how difficult it was to read, gave me many problems of readability. That's not to say James is a bad writer--far from it! Perhaps it was a combination between my inability reading serious literary fiction (I was a very late starter) and the lack of reading practice (the proverbial, "I just finished this paragraph/page and I have no clue what I just read"). What escaped me then--that doesn't now--is the idea that becoming a reader is very much like lifting weights or playing an instrument: the more you practice, the better the chances that you will do it better in the future. Well, after all of these years teaching--and years as a grad student--I've come to the conclusion of giving Henry James' work the attention and respect it deserves.

"Daisy Miller and Other Stories" has been a delight to read; the characters are fresh, albeit the fact that they all suffer from undertones of psychological insecurity/apprehension. What I loved the best is Henry James' style of description of both characters and settings. As a Europhile, Henry James wrote both intelligently and authoritatively about the great cities. When it comes to the characters, Daisy Miller's persona is as complex as she appears coquettish. The most difficult part of understanding a character like her, I believe, stems from the fact that her mind traveled 100 miles per hour. While it was hard to keep up with her changing preferences and attitudes, this was precisely what Henry James' masterfully weaves and depicts. She is a young woman of her age. Daisy's complex behavior not only reflects rebellion against Victorian rules of society but also her own fabric as an imaginary person made "flesh" by a master writer. When it comes to those psychological undertones, one is quick to realize the influence of Henry James' brother (William James) in his works. William James was a professor of philosophy, psychology and even theology at Harvard, developing many epistemological treaties including his major achievement, Pragmatism. Henry James' no doubt benefits from a constant and rich correspondence with his brother (James having established himself permanently in England). Interesting bits of information about these genius brothers can be found in Linda Simon's "Genuine Reality: The Life of William James").

It isn't like "Sunset Park" has had to wait. I've read the first chapter, slowly (painfully so). I am taking in every word and nuance of sound, rhythm, in this flawless prose. Paul Auster is one of these writers that when they die, they leave a large hole in contemporary literature. That's not to say that there aren't better writers than him (although, being a fan, I can't pretend to be an objective reviewer). For example, the empty space left by the suicide of David Foster Wallace might give us some glimpse into the tragic end of a genius writer being missed for all the works he didn't have the opportunity to write. I wish nothing but blessings and eternal health to Paul Auster. Do live to be 110+ years old, dear sir, and enlighten us with many more novels, films, nonfiction, reviews! Dare I say the world depends on it. :-)

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At 4:07 PM, Blogger Bleets said...

You can find the Quo Vadis Habana journals at WritersBloc: http://www.shopwritersbloc.com/journals.html They sell them for $18.95. Kudos on the Henry Miller words here.


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