I chose this (early in my acquaintance with James) for the plot: Henry James does radical London. I stayed for the style…
I understand this is his ‘miI chose this (early in my acquaintance with James) for the plot: Henry James does radical London. I stayed for the style…
I understand this is his ‘middle period’, without the tortuosity of his late; still with traits you either like or don’t. For me it was word-perfect – only a suspicion of waffling three-quarters through. The thing I most often dispense with in a book is description of places and objects; I read that James didn’t believe in physical description (other than persons) for its own sake, not unless it conveys a mood of his novel or its inhabitants. For me, there was not a word wasted in his gorgeous descriptions of a gloomy London; and there was no extraneous detail to clutter you as you fleet through the pages. Wordy? This author is not wordy. He spends his words on inwardness and conversations, and since I believe this is where words should be spent, I read smoothly and absorbed. He has pretty juxtapositions of words, too; sentences that make me know I have to come back and read this again. Anyway, I doubt he can do a plot I’m going to be as intrigued by.
It’s a political thriller, and has been accused of an attempt to be sensational. But revolutionary terrorism was an issue of the day, and I am so glad James decided to turn his hand to it. The ‘reluctant revolutionary’ type I know from Russian fiction, and one introduction tells me he took a real-life example in a volunteer assassin who had qualms and botched his job.
Hyacinth is torn between a love of the fine things that an unfair society creates, and sympathy for the misery of the bulk of London’s people. Perhaps these were the terms then. It seems to Hyacinth (and probably to James) that if we blow up the aristocracy we’ll be left with the ugly and vulgar. But I do not mean his working-class heroes are ugly or vulgar or stupid; they are rather fine, with a mix of the humane and the inhumanely-committed. In what tugs Hyacinth to the noble houses, this novel gave me a new insight into aristocracy-appreciation. But not because they have better people; they don’t, in the novel. Hyacinth’s attachment is about things, the artistry. His naïve ideas about noble people are shot through, and he never becomes a turncoat from his cause, he just… becomes confused.
The novel has two slumming noblewomen, who identify themselves with the people’s cause. I imagine James was more at home in writing them (though he does a fair job at everyone, if you ask me). One is awkward, endearing, genuinely selfless; the other, the princess of the title, at different times comes across as a tourist in search of sensation, a spy afraid for her class, or a real and dangerous revolutionary. It is James’ indirectness not to solve what she is – as he doesn’t solve Hyacinth’s divided loyalties.
I liked Hyacinth, the more as we go on, and his puzzles, although the terms have changed (in that the non-aristocratic world is creative, too), were meaningful to me. I liked the intelligent women, and the unsatirised eccentricity of cast like Mr Vetch and the French communist couple. I enjoy how James conceals major scenes, so that we piece them in by gradual stages after the fact, the more effectively for our imaginations. I enjoy how conversations go nowhere or speeches reach no certain conclusion, as in life.
Lastly, I want to note that James’ queer sensibilities (rampant, for instance, in ‘The Turn of the Screw’) are to be found here. I can’t be more explicit, I just decided along the way this a queer-friendly text. ...more
I read this. Cover to cover. Possibly the only non-writerly autobiography of a still-alive person I have ever read; but then, Steve Waugh remains, posI read this. Cover to cover. Possibly the only non-writerly autobiography of a still-alive person I have ever read; but then, Steve Waugh remains, possibly, my strangest-ever crush. Since him, it's been English cricketers (I'm a dual citizen); but none so dogged and tenacious in his hold on my affections. ...more
I’ve been ashamed I hadn’t read Orientalism, and now I know I had reason to be ashamed. It’s rightly a classic. Though its ideas have seeped out so thI’ve been ashamed I hadn’t read Orientalism, and now I know I had reason to be ashamed. It’s rightly a classic. Though its ideas have seeped out so that much was familiar, there was a lot of clarity in going back to source.
I expected a more ‘pugnacious’ book, to use a word from the back cover. But it’s not pugnacious in style or content. Perhaps in the first shock of publication it seemed so. It’s a fair-minded book, ‘humanist’ in a word he refuses to relinquish (that wins my heart). His point is not to condemn or consign to oblivion the entirety of the West’s scholarship and art on the Orient. He just makes us aware of the structures of thought in place. When it came to figures I have an attachment to (T.E. Lawrence; his hero Charles Doughty; other travelers), I never felt Said was telling me I have to cease to read them. And I wasn’t disenchanted, because I knew these guys were riddled with Orientalism even if I didn’t have the terms (in fact, I’m stalled in Doughty from years back where he has an egregious instance; I’ll get over it and pick him up again, for his wonderful observation and the prose style Lawrence so admired). You cannot say fairer than what he says of Richard Burton, along with the useful analysis that only Said has said.
This book is a feat of thought that probably has its little inexactitudes as his detractors like to point out. It re-visioned things and has a larger scope than the still-contentious area of 'Islam' and 'the West' (still? I’m glad he’s not alive). He explains how scholarship isn't innocent of politics – not just in the case of the West on Islam, and not even to fault that case, because scholarship cannot exist in a safe bubble, away from the hustle and bustle of the politicised world around us. I think it is this which gets backs up, more than the charge that he is anti-West (he isn’t). I’ve seen scholars respond that they are indeed innocent of politics; but if I ever cherished that thought, too much reading history has ruined me. If I can tell a not-irrelevant tale: in my own research area, in Asia, in his Orient, as an innocent researcher who didn’t know much about historiography, I grew increasingly flummoxed and exasperated by the attitudinal problems in mainstream, prestigious histories. It turns out, the best thing I could have done in order to understand what I saw was wrong with Mongol history-writing, was read Said. Its applicability goes wider than Islam-and-the-West.
The only time I think he’s irascible in tone is in the 1995 Afterword, when he’s obviously been in a feud with Bernard Lewis. I’m sorry his book met hostility in certain quarters, because, as I say, it’s not damnatory of the tradition, and if Orientalists or their heirs don’t see there’s room for this sort of criticism, that’s sad. With his 2003 Preface – the year he died – he has returned to the serene tones of the main work, although, with the downturn in world events, he sounds a sadder and a wiser man.
The book was written as a classic ought to be, without the jargon of the day and a pleasure to read. It may become too detailed in its case studies for most people’s purposes; I used the skip button, but this is not my last encounter with Said’s great work. ...more
Boy meets troll. I liked the documents of troll lore, that took up half the space in parts: newspaper clippings, scientific lit, ballads, legends, excBoy meets troll. I liked the documents of troll lore, that took up half the space in parts: newspaper clippings, scientific lit, ballads, legends, excerpts from early novels -- a few real, a few not; often we can't tell where that line is blurred. Everything you want to know about trolls. The human world and its transactions were a bit less captivating; I believed more in the trolls. Very different to The Forest Of Hours but adds to my troll collection. ...more
I heard this was his most political novel but to me, almost less so than others; this is love story for the sake of love story, and the politics are iI heard this was his most political novel but to me, almost less so than others; this is love story for the sake of love story, and the politics are in the setting. Background chatter. It is less a young person’s love story and more at the stage when Onegin runs into Tatyana a second time, her a married woman. I don’t know much about Turgenev’s private life but I know he spent his love life on a married woman in Europe. Possibly that’s why I thought him here at his utmost in his talents to describe. Irina in the novel is no Tatyana, and this is a case of cowardice in love. It is well known that married persons rarely run away with you, while they can have domestic comforts, respectability and an affair too.
As for the politics: Potugin is often taken for the author’s mouthpiece. I do not doubt that Turgenev was as Eurocentric as this. In his famed encounter with Dostoyevsky, here in Baden-Baden, Turgenev insulted everything Russian and Dostoyevsky insulted everything German. Potugin’s anti-Russian rants made me take Russia’s side, if only because I have heard this kind of thing said of quite other cultures (no fine endeavours, no contribution to humanity…) What also removes the sting is the distance whereby I am reading a Russian masterpiece even as I read his tirades, and Russian achievement in the novel is not now a concept under threat. In general I found the satire didn’t bite, although I can’t use the word ‘gentle’. It’s satire of Russian emigrants, of whom Turgenev was one. With Potugin, his spokesperson, I kept in mind a great quote by him, where he said critics never understand that an author can gain satisfaction from making a portrait of his own weaknesses and holding them up to scorn. I very much suspected he’s laughing at Potugin, which is to say he’s laughing at himself. I found Potugin’s speeches strangely laughable, and I don’t know why else I would have.
Note. I read the Constance Garnett translation, which seemed felicitous to me. I didn't know there was a new translation by Michael Pursglove (his two later novels are neglected), but I'll read that one next time. ...more