untoward public humping from behind, the lutenist
you dreamed about last night seemed an
indifferent kind of inexplicability. To what in it had it been
needful to adhere? Consciousness is queer.
F.W. Dupee, Henry James, 1951 (Wm Sloan
Assoc.), “The Awkward Period”, pp 193 - 196
His prose is
likewise changing in these years, and changing considerably, although the
process is gradual. In his effort to make the story self-sufficient, his sentences
have always carried an abundance of suggestive detail; they now simply carry
more. The urbane and relatively impersonal rhythms of his earlier style become
more nervously responsive to the currents of feeling. There are bizarre shifts
of pace, unexpected brevities. "Her little world was phantasmagoric --
strange shadows dancing on a sheet." At the same time, as the entire
medium becomes denser and tauter, it risks parallelisms of sound and cadence
which would formerly have been rejected as too poetic. "There was a
general shade in all the lower reaches -- a fine clear dusk in garden and
grove." Increasingly the language rejoices in sudden colloquialism,
raffish jargon, and a habit of turning abruptly and alarmingly concrete.
"Mrs. Wix gave the jerk of a sleeper awakened or the start even of one who
hears a bullet whiz at the flag of truce." Above all, the medium begins to
put forth remarkable metaphors without fear of violating its prose character.
The following, from 'The Portrait of a Lady,' is an easily predictable image,
formally introduced and logically developed. "It had lately occurred to
her that her mind was a good deal of a vagabond, and she had spent much
ingenuity in training it to a military step and teaching it to advance, to
halt, to retreat, to perform even more complicated manoeuvres, at the word of
command." Compare this with the following from 'The Sacred Fount:'
"The last calls of birds sounded extraordinarily loud; they were like the
timed, serious splashes, in wide, still water, of divers not expecting to rise
again." These self-doomed divers, like Mrs. Wix's whizzing bullet, are
entirely original and perfectly irrelevant to the surface facts of the story.
Rather, it is by such eruptions, as Stephen Spender has said, that "there
arise, as from the depths, the dream images of the unconscious." They also
connect James's refined-appearing world with the realm of the physical and the
elemental, of latent horror, of "the thing hideously behind."
There was danger
that the verbal abundance of the later style might become an end in itself,
overwhelming the story and the characters. This James at his best averted,
partly by making the characters themselves more articulate. They have always
been eloquent about their concerns; they now talk, besides, about the language
itself, evidencing its richness in nuance at the same time that they are
furthering the action. The internal structure of dialogue, as well as its
relation to the enveloping narrative, undergoes an intense stylization. The
theater's influence is felt in monolithic scenes and resounding curtains.
Patches of talk are set off from the rest like parks from their adjacent
streets, except that the business of the story is mainly done in them. Of
business, moreover, there is a definite sum to be accomplished in each area of
dialogue, some item of revelation or decision to be added to the whole account.
And although the talkers are as a rule vividly individual, they eagerly
subordinate themselves to this larger enterprise like the participants in a
relay race or a morris dance. However much at variance in other respects, they
all "pull together," as James would say, in the interests of a common
style. Extremely sociable, they pause in mid-sentence to allow a friend the
pleasure of finishing it; or they offer him an irresistible come-on in the form
of an equivocation or a floating pronoun.
Beale furthermore only gave her more to think about in saying that their
disappointment was the result of his having got into his head a kind of idea.
kind of idea?'
goodness knows!' She spoke with an approach to asperity. 'He's so awfully
-- that was ambiguous.
what he does, don't you know?' said Mrs. Beale. She fumbled. 'Well, about what we do.'
wondered. 'You and me?'
and him, silly!' cried Mrs. Beale with, this time a real
This habit of
leading with a doubtful pronoun certainly grew on James's later characters, and
like other of his devices for securing internal unity it became customary, part
of a large body of conventional usage which, of course, is felt as a strength
or an infirmity of his style depending on whether the emotion is itself
forceful or weak in the given case. On the whole, for richness, for subtlety,
for attention to concords of sense and sound, James later style was the most
remarkable style in English since the 17th century. With all its artifices,
there is something elemental about it. Unlike the virtuoso styles, admirable
though they are, of a Stevenson or a Swinburne, that of James refers us back,
not to the eloquence of the author, but to the resources of the language.
I write roughly one poem a day. This blog is a continuation of a series of poem depot websites I'd also had through google, but which seem now to have filled up with my stuff to the point where I can't edit or add another page.
So here I am. Since April 1, 2009 I've been adding drawings, one a day. To see them fuller size left-click on the drawing - and voila.
To get an idea of who I am, google on "Guy Kettelhack."
To see poems I've written previous to the ones in this poem depot, google on Guy Kettelhack + Act 2 (or just Guy Kettelhack + poetry): for kind unsolicited observations about my work by photographer Rick Shupper: google Guy Kettelhack + Holtermann Design LLC. (I'd provide links but they don't seem to stick here.)
thanks for stopping by.