Henry James* (1843 – 1916)

*American author regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism. He became a British citizen in the last year of his life.

From: Penelope Fitzgerald‘s Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984) Chapter Five – A Yellow Book Woman:

“All of them loved Henry Harland, who knew exactly how to treat them. “Darling of my heart!” he greeted them, “Child of my editing!” When he had to give in, at last, to ill-health, and retired to Dieppe, they descended like a welcome flock of birds on his villa, and later at his boarding-house. There, according to Evelyn Sharp, the dying Harland was Harland still. Asked by the lady next to him to pass the salt, he exclaimed: “Dear lady, it is yours! And may I not also pass you the mustard?”

Charlotte Mew certainly went to the Harlands’ Saturday evenings in Cromwell Road, in the pink drawing-room with its Persian carpet, evenings to remember, when there were songs at the piano in French, Italian and German, and the young ones gazed in reverence at Henry James, who walked up and down the room, searching for a word to finish his sentence. Everyone knew what it was, but nobody dared to supply it…”

From: Music at Midnight (1929) by Muriel Draper:

“To be called to the telephone by Henry James was an experience in itself. The first time it happened I, all unaware, took up the receiver eagerly, and said, “Yes – this is Muriel.”

A voice that began to twist and turn on the other end of the wire, finally spoke.

“Would you be – er – or rather, my dear, – er – my very dear, if I may call you so, child, would you, – not by – er – er arrangement, but would you – more – er – truthfully speaking – be – er – er NATURALLY at home – this afternoon?”

By that time I was not naturally anything at all, and could only gasp, “Yes, always, any time – yes, yes, this afternoon at five, I will, unnaturally or not, be here – yes,” and hung up.

It was during this visit that I learned to talk with him and listen to him, by withdrawing the weight of my attention from his actual words and the anguished facial contortions that accompanied them, and fastening it on the stream of thought itself. I even diverted my eyes from that part of his face from which the phrases finally emerged, namely, his mouth, and directed them to a more peaceful spot between his eyes, which I imagined to be the source of thought. It proved helpful. Evidently released from some bondage which the eye and ear of a listener imposed upon him, he seemed to feel more free. My effort to ignore the words and extract the meaning by a sense of weight, inflection and rhythm which emanated from him, removed the burden he must have felt at keeping me – anyone – waiting so long, and gradually the full current of his thought was flowing steadily, pauses and hesitations becoming accents rather than impediments. It proved an excellent modus operandi from then on, and only at those times when he had an audience of more than one person did the old difficulties return.

A few nights after this lunch, Thibaud, Casals, Rubinstein, Kochanski and Sczymanowski were to be the nucleus of an evening at Edith Grove; so I sent a line to Henry James informing him of this and begging him to join us. He arrived early and sledged down the stairs into the room with that extraordinary density of movement that was characteristic of him…”

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