Friday, April 15, 2005

Happy birthday, Henry James

Just a few of my good friends
(the birthday boy's book is third from the right):

Novelist Henry James was born on this day in 1843. Reading Garrison Keillor's "The Writers Almanac" this morning, I learned this:
At some point in his childhood, [James] was injured, possibly in a fire. He never said much about it to his friends, except that the injury was "horrid," but some scholars have suggested that perhaps he was scarred in some way, which would explain why he never had a single love affair with anyone. As far as we know, he died without ever having even received a romantic kiss.

Since he had no family of his own, and no lovers to pursue, he had all the more time to devote to his writing. In his lifetime, he wrote almost 10 million words of fiction and non-fiction, including Daisy Miller (1878), Washington Square (1880) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881), which many consider his masterpiece. It's the story of Isabel Archer, an American heiress who travels to Europe, trying to make a life for herself without a husband, only to find herself falling in love with a man named Gilbert Osmond. It begins, "Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."

Ah, yes. I would love The Portrait of a Lady even if it didn't begin with a beautiful scene depicting one of my favorite hobbies, but James's sensitive description of a son enjoying an outdoor tea with his invalid father really snags my heart. Kids, this is good writing.

If you, too, love The Portrait of a Lady, you'll want to take a look at these pictures.


Heather Diane Tipton said...

Brenda, LOL, must you always point out to me how lacking my literary education is?

Brenda Coulter said...

Heather, you must read The Portrait of a Lady or I don't see how we can continue being friends. ;-)

Heather Diane Tipton said...

LOL Ok, does reading it online count? I can read it at
LOL I'll read it as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

ah...brings back memories of your neice and her Henry James period. Couldn't pry the books out of her hands when she was in high school. Portrait of a Lady was her particular favourite.