Greg Gerke evaluates James as 'a master of terror'
To my mind Henry James is a master of terror. Without bloodshed or the threat of guns, germs, or steel, James’s microscope fixes on the motivations that kill the human spirit. At the apex of the first half of his writing life is The Portrait of a Lady, a unique and pulsating work of art on the order of Leonardo, Shakespeare, and Beethoven—a novel about what James called “a certain young woman affronting her destiny.” Two versions exist: the original 1881 version and the revised New York Edition of 1907—both circulate freely today. How could this 130-year-old book slay me? How could its wisdom impact like a detonation? Not just with story, not just with character, but with sentences as stately as Dante’s terza rima in The Divine Comedy—lines like “She rested her weariness upon things that had crumbled for centuries and yet were still upright; she dropped her secret sadness into the silence of lonely…” “She” is Isabel Archer, the heroine, and she is looking at the ruins of Rome. James’s style flares and flowers out, compounding the story and sending the characters into a unique motion and awareness with each ornate sentence. [Read More]
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