Sunday, May 15, 2016

"A Passionate Pilgrim" (1871)

This longish story bears interest because it's a very early example of one of the themes Henry James is known for, the contrasts between Old World and New. It focuses on an impoverished American, an elderly gentleman, who has traveled to London to seek claim to an estate for which he may be legally entitled. It's told in the first-person by another American, who intuitively believes in the justice of his cause. Fortified by this support, our hero, Clement Searle, pays a visit to the site in question, with a fine old mansion on spacious grounds. He meets the brother and sister who presently occupy it and are distant relatives. The sister is unmarried and immediately falls in love with Clement somehow, but the brother furiously resents Clement's legal actions. At first he is polite and almost friendly, but finally erupts with his grudges. Then, because it's a bad scene around the mansion after that, Clement and the narrator travel to Oxford for a visit, which they find so wonderful they decide it must be the very epicenter of the known universe. I suspect that's James. This overwhelming response to England adds up to the "passionate" of the title. The "pilgrim" should be self-explanatory. I enjoyed this but rarely believed any of the action—I will let you find the ludicrous resolution for yourself, on grounds it would be "a spoiler." In many ways it's fun to find the theme of worlds in collision in early form. It almost feels like an accident, as if James were working out the setting and character as he went, and ended up with this strange American in London. Clement Searle is not the kind of American Christopher Newman would be (in The American), but more of a loyalist in sympathy with the crown, etc. That makes him less interesting, which is something James appeared to figure out relatively quickly. Also interesting in this story is that for once it's barely at all about marrying. The element of the chemistry between Clement and the sister is just weird and feels forced in more than anything, perhaps for commercial reasons or maybe just because James often had the impulse to turn things in that direction. It's a strange and interesting piece, with a real sense of discovery propelling it.

"interlocutor" count = 0 / 40 pages

In case it's not at the library. (Library of America)

1 comment:

  1. I hate it when those bad scenes break out around the mansion!