Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I hate Henry James and I'm not afraid to admit it

Wings of the Dove. I'll admit it's not as bad as The Ambassadors, but then that book was the worst book that I've ever read, so that's not really paying WotD a complement. I have a slightly better idea of what is going on than I did in The Ambassadors, in which I was so lost that I eventually just surrendered to the fact that I didn't get it, and would never get it, so I should just finish the stupid thing and be done with it. I feel the same way with WotD, though less so.

Here's what annoys me about Henry James: There are many times while reading any particular book when I suddenly realize that I don't really know what's going on. Oftentimes, that is my own fault for not paying attention. So, I go back and reread the last paragraph, or last page, or even last few pages, and I'm back up to speed on what is happening. With Henry James, however, it doesn't matter how much I read, or reread, or how intensely I pay attention...I still don't understand what's going on. His syntax is strange and he never seems to come to the point. His writing is circumlocutory: instead of writing one or two sentences, he writes 20, which really could be 60, circling around what he's trying to say. Most often, the only reason why I have any clue what is going on is because I read a summary of the book, so I know what is supposed to be going on, and I can kind of follow along. Note the "kind of," because even when I know the plot, I still am often lost.

When I was reading The Ambassadors, I thought that maybe I was just stupid...which is how I feel when I attempt to read Joyce, and occasionally Faulkner. That is until I found Doug Shaw's review of the book. I will be forever grateful to Doug Shaw for writing that review, as it completely saved my self-esteem...my feeling of worth as a reader. When reading Faulkner, or Joyce, or many of the other Writers For Very Intelligent Readers, I recognized it as such. But at least with them, if I worked at it hard enough, I could get it, and I would come out feeling so much smarter... there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with reading, finishing, and sort of understanding Joyce, or The Sound and Fury. But instinctively, I didn't feel that way with The Ambassadors. I kept thinking to myself, how did I become so stupid that I don't understand this? But then I found Doug Shaw, and I realized that I'm not stupid. The book is stupid. Henry James is stupid. It isn't just me.

While seeking out other people who hate Henry James, I found a lesson plan for high school teachers who are covering James. One of the suggestions was: 'Give students an in-class writing assignment: “What If You Were Henry James?”' What if I was Henry James? I would have saved the world the misery of having to read my books by never writing them.

1 comment:

Alistair said...

Hear hear! I hate him too.

Now i admit, I've only read a grand total of one page of James - the first page of The beast in the jungle. That was enough for me however, to decide that I never want to read another page ever again.

What shockingly ugly sentences. Oh my god! I totally agree with what you've said above. what the hell is going on? Overlong rambling sentences with way way way to many commas. Jesus Harold Christ man - what a longwinded bore.

Well said too about Joyce. I finally finished reading Ulysses (on about my sixth attempt) a couple of years ago. It took me about two months of full time study and lots of wider reading around critisicm on Joyce to get to grips with it. Afterwards I felt that they were two months well spent - I'm really happy I had the opportunity to do that. It opened up my thinking and my whole conception of what the novel can do.

I mean I don't claim to be a genius but I'm not thick either (& have an MA in English Lit.) Henry James though would make anyone feel stupid if they bought into his rep. as a great writer.

Henry James - what a pile of wank! I hate him too - let's form a Henry James antipathy society - we could get together for five minute hate sessions by conferencing online.