Monday, August 22, 2011

#22 & 23: The Coxon Fund and The Lesson of the Master, Henry James

The Coxon Fund and The Lesson of the Master
by Henry James
-born in America, 1843
-103 & 122 Pages
-more about James (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Henry James was the son of a theologian and the brother of a philsopher.
- He entered Harvard Law School at 19 but soon quit to write and travel in Europe, where he met Flaubert, Turgenev, George Eliot, and Zola.
- He gained International fame with Daisy Miller, which scandalized Victorian society and sold thousands of copies.
- His work increased in sophistication and was meticulously observed, which established him as the first master of psychological fiction.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
The Coxon Fund:
Henry James examines one of his favorite topics—the artist’s place in society—by profiling a “genius” who just can’t seem to support himself. A dazzling intellectual and brilliant speaker, Mr. Saltram has become the most sought-after houseguest in England. But, as his intellectual labors slacken, it beomes harder and harder to get him to leave.

A wry, edgy comedy about the fine line between making art...and freeloading.The Coxon Fund shows off a gift that is rarely appreciated about Henry James: he can be wickedly funny.

The Lesson of the Master:
Exemplifying Henry James's famous belief that "Art makes life," The Lesson of the Master is a piercing study of the life that art makes. When the tale's protagonist—a gifted young writer—meets and befriends a famous author he has long idolized, he is both repelled by and attracted to the artist's great secret: the emotional costs of a life dedicated to art.

With extraordinary psychological insight and devastating wit, the novella asks the question of whether art is, ultimately, demeaning or ennobling for the artist, while capturing the ambiguities of a life devoted to art, and the choices artists must make. The expatriate James knew these choice well by the time he published the novella in the Universal Review in 1888, and the work reveals him at the height of his powers.

My Impressions:
I've decided to post on both of Henry James' novellas together because I really have very little to say about them.  The infinitesimal clauses in his sentences set my eyeballs swirling and put me to sleep faster (and more consistently) than Leviticus.  I didn't even finish The Coxon Fund.  I thought about reading all the words so I could say that I read it, but really, what's the point of that?  In retrospect, I should have given Benito Cereno the axe as well.

There is something about Henry James' writing that makes my mind travel to all the things I need to get done. Since starting his books I've replied to emails, come up with ideas for Christmas gifts, written a shopping list for school get the point.  It isn't that the writing is bad--there were quite a few passages I noted--it's just that it feels so impersonal and I find it difficult to get into it's rhythm.  Reading Henry James is like being in a noisy restaurant and realizing, thanks to the accolades of others at the table, that there is good music playing somewhere of which you only hear intermittent snatches because you are constantly being distracted by your surroundings.

Another classic author that just isn't my style; I may even take The Turn of the Screw off my TBR list.  I just can't connect with his writing style, which makes it difficult for me to connect with his characters or his stories.  The Lesson of the Master revolved around literature, though, so there were a few fun bookish quotes there:
"I dare say she has read every blest word you've written."
"You talk just like the people in your book!"
"I've never seen anyone like her.  Her interest in literature's touching--something quite peculiar to herself; she takes it all so seriously."


  1. Ah, that's a shame. I have The Turn Of The Screw on my kindle - I've browsed the first chapter a few times but couldn't get into it. I think it requires determination rather than just browsing :P

  2. Too bad! I LOVED James' The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller, but never cared much for The Turn of the Screw. Think I'll skip these novellas...

  3. Sam, his writing definitely required determination from me! Perhaps it's a sign of complexity, but I'm more fond of approachable complexity. :)

    JoAnn, good to know. If I ever get the urge to try more James, I'll make sure to put some thought into which one I choose. :)


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