Monday, 5 September 2011

Henry James's Big Ask

I am now it seems at the stage in the bog of The Golden Bowl where I think I previously lost my wellingtons some 30 years or more ago. Does ones taste change so little or is it that the vast indetermination and fog grows so thick that the continent that is Henry James is cut off. There are so many ‘big asks’. The chief one is that an American who is a billionaire by 47 simmered in the ruthless stews of the Gilded Age would buy a prince in a poke. This Adam is a figure of great wealth sanitized by benevolence, a Carnegie or Mellon or Beattie. James was insulated from ‘getting and spending’ by grandfather’s money. This patriarch was Scots Irish, an Ulster Presbyterian from Cavan.. The Cavanman is reputed to eat his dinner from an open drawer in readiness for unexpected callers. Whether that elder endowed anything or not we can be grateful that he established a line that produced the other James boys.

The other novel I’m reading might be said to be an antidote - Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. It is crisp, precise, direct although so far there is no indication whether the Barbarians or the Colonists are generic or specific to a time and place. Muskets are mentioned and torture is routine. It is realism but not of the coarse sort. Distance makes types and that’s fine because when you move closer they become individuals though so far they have remained unnamed.

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