Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Broken Wings" (1900)

If it feels like we've been here before with Henry James, I think that's because we have: at the crucible of the choice between a life of love, warmth, and happiness, or a life of the solitude of creative work. It's a brooding story with long paragraphs. The heroes are Stuart Straith and Mrs. Harvey. She is an accomplished writer, and he is an accomplished painter. So it goes. They are meeting by random at a social occasion. They share a past—for 10 years they were close to marrying. But, well, the work—hang it all, the work. You really feel James put his heart into these situations, no doubt because as a lifelong bachelor he saw himself in them. People now tend to assume James was gay, or otherwise closeted, but as far as I know there is no Clyde Tolson companion figure shadowing him, let alone a formal life partner. James was at the work. I'm not making light of it. I respect his work ethic. This story is short enough to be a short story, but long enough to break into five sections with Roman numerals, with separate scenes in time and space. The social occasion, a party, is where these two reconnect, tentatively. It's a kind of dance they go through, seem resigned to, of advance and withdraw. They respect one another. They understand one another. In spite of which they must be apart, because—the work. In the third section they are seeing one another, bargaining within themselves as much as with each other. They confide their sideline means of income. Now we start to get the sense they may be accomplished as artists but stretching to make ends meet. Their sympathies for one another go deeper, as do ours for them. They are wonderfully tender and vulnerable with these disclosures. They have their struggles. Stuart's work doesn't seem to sell well, he has such a lot of it around his studio. But Mrs. Harvey pays him the compliment of a visit and abundant admiration for his work. In the fifth and last section, Mrs. Harvey lets Stuart visit her in her home, after some resistance. They are coming to recognize each other, perhaps imperfectly, even as they begin to realize they are alone in the world with their dreams. Who can't identify with that?

"interlocutor" count = 1 / 19 pages ("interlocutress")

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

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