Sunday, March 31, 2019

"The Birthplace" (1903)

This late Henry James story is lauded on Wikipedia as witty and hilarious, warm words from the typically staid crowdsourced online encyclopedia. Well, maybe it's witty and hilarious. It's intended primarily as a send-up of tourist Shakespeare worship. The principal characters, Mr. and Mrs. Gedge, once again hail from the over-refined and underpaid refuge of the upper classes, whom James admired. The Gedges, who are in circumstances, take positions as guides and managers of the original Shakespeare home, where the Bard was actually raised. James appreciated the work of Shakespeare even as he doubted the authorship. Like James, Mr. Gedge subscribes to a theory other than single authorship and now his half-hearted guide patter is starting to bum the people out. This in turn is causing Mrs. Gedge nervous complaints, especially when the big boss shows up to set her husband straight. In the end, Mr. Gedge gets the Shakespeare religion, extols the legend enthusiastically, earns a raise, and Mrs. Gedge is happy again. Droll, very droll. I have no dog in any fight about Shakespeare so a key aspect of the premise already falls a little flat for me. And then it's also typical of James's later stuff, which requires patience and parsing. I was short on the former, as he might say, and so my interest in carrying on with the latter, nay my very ability, was perforce diminished. On top of that, the proofreading in the electronic version can be off. Many confusing commas, or lacks thereof, I'll put it that way. I like the electronic version because I often need help in the first place with vocabulary and untranslated foreign terms. Folks, this is why I'm sold on e-books. These days, when I read a printed book, I sorely miss being able to look up words in context as I go (and lugging out the dictionary is inconvenient), which is practically a necessity with many Henry James passages. Also, Delphi editions let you buy everything an author ever wrote, including letters and criticism, all in one giant product. I call them shelf products. Amazing, wonderful, convenient. I love them except for glitches like the proofreading or occasional botched navigation (see, or rather don't see, the Balzac edition). This Henry James story is not that perfect, though I might like it better in another mood. Sorry about the testimonial for e-books. I had to say it somewhere.

"interlocutor" count = 1 / 55 pages

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

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