Sunday, October 20, 2013

Henry James on Flaubert, Maupassant, and Stendhal

Henry James: Introduction by Marciano Guerrero

Brief Biography

The American author Henry James (1843-1916) was one of the major novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was born in New York City into a family of intellectuals: his father was a theologian, and his brother —William James— was an eminent psychologist and philosopher.
He was privately tutored in London, Geneva, and Paris. His American education began at school in Newport, R.I. James entered Harvard Law School in 1862, leaving after a year. In 1864 his family settled in Boston and then in Cambridge.

While his brother William married and had five children, Henry remained a bachelor his entire life—or, as he has been described: “an old maid.” Loose tongues have even labeled him —without proof of any kind— gay.

Both England and the United States of America claim Henry James’ glory. James alternated between America and Europe for the first 20 years of his life, after which he settled in England, becoming a British subject in 1915, one year before his death.

His total production was prodigious. Among his most popular and favorites in many colleges’ reading lists are: The Ambassadors, The American, The Aspern Papers, Daisy Miller, The Portrait of a Lady, Roderick Hudson, The Turn of the Screw, and Washington Square.
Henry James on Flaubert, Maupassant, and Stendhal

Because Henry James knew Gustave Flaubert —personally— he was quite precise in his portrayal, as we read his “Introduction to Madame Bovary”:
“Tall, strong, striking, he caused his friends to admire in him the elder, the florid Norman type, and he seems himself, as a man of imagination, to have found some transmission of race in his stature and presence, his light-colored salient eyes and long tawny moustache.”

While James attempted to be a fair critic, readers can detect sharp and sour remarks about the three subjects of his reviews: Flaubert, Maupassant, and Stendhal. Yet the overall tenor of his approval seems to favor Flaubert. For other critics —such as Stendhal’s biographer Archibald Paton— James borders on the contemptuous; he can be not only acerbic, but also brutal in his attacks.

Despite the long-winded sentences, the essays presented here are easy to read. Unlike some of his soporific novels, these pieces of criticism are brisk, with just a few Dramamine patches.
To lighten up the pace for today’s readers, we have re-shaped the paragraphs, shortening them, and thus diminishing the tedious density of the original pages.

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