Thursday, August 13, 2009

The End of Henry James...For Now

Sometimes I have wondered if the Modern Library's list was made to torture me, as if it was designed specifically for my book-related OCD. After all, I committed to it before I had waded through the waters of James Joyce...before I realized some of the innocuous titles on there really weren't one book, but were multiple (it actually isn't a list of 100 books...it's a list of 116), and when all I had read of Henry James was a short, decently enjoyable ghost story called "The Turn of the Screw," which, believe it or not, made sense. Yes, this list was designed just to trick me...to laugh as I worked my way through Portrait of the Artist, only to realize that I still had Ulysses and Finnegans Wake left. And then, the horribly cruel joke of Henry James. It's not that I expect The Ambassadors to be a short ghost story as well, but I didn't expect to find what I did...or what I didn't find (as in, I didn't find a novel that was at all comprehensible). AND THEY MAKE ME READ 3 BY THIS CHARLATAN!

Haha, but NO MORE! I have finally finished The Golden Bowl, the last of the three on the list.

A summary of The Golden Bowl: Maggie and Amerigo are going to get married (because Maggie has money and Amerigo wants some). Amerigo and Charlotte used to be lovers, but Maggie doesn't know that. Amerigo and Charlotte go shopping together before the marriage, and they look at a golden bowl in a shop, but Amerigo notices a flaw in it, so they don't buy it. Maggie & Amerigo get married. Maggie wants her dad to get married, and the most obvious candidate is Charlotte. Adam (Maggie's dad) marries Charlotte. Charlotte & Amerigo rekindle their relationship. Yes: Amerigo is sleeping with his step-mother-in-law. Maggie begins to suspect something's up between her husband and her step-mother. On day, she goes shopping and finds a golden bowl in a shop, which she buys. A few days later, the shop keeper comes to visit her: he felt bad he charged her so much money for the bowl, because there's a flaw in it. While there, he sees photos of Amerigo and Charlotte, and tells him about their coming to the shop a few years ago and about their conversation. Maggie & Amerigo have a "confrontation" (I put that in quotations, because it wasn't at all interesting or exciting). Maggie schemes to get her dad to return to America with Charlotte without either of them finding out that she knew what was up between Charlotte & her husband. It works, they return to America, and suddenly Amerigo is happy with Maggie.

This is, at least, what I THINK happened. I can never quite see through the fog of James's prose and I could not find a chapter-by-chapter analysis of this book, which was the only thing that made The Ambassadors and Wings of the Dove half-comprehensible. The Golden Bowl wasn't as bad as The Ambassadors, but that is not a compliment.

James (once described by Thomas Hardy as the Polonius of English Prose) went through three phases of his career: James the First, James the Second, and the Old Pretender; the latter phase encompassing only three novels: The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl. I titled this post "The End of Henry James For Now" because I'm sure as I work my way through other lists, I will be forced to confront this foe again, but it will be in Daisy Miller, or Portrait of a Lady. I am not expecting to enjoy them, but I have at least slain the evil dragon that was the Old Pretender. I have beaten the Modern Library at its game...I have beaten Henry James!

On a side note, I'm due in a week with my first baby, and I felt like he couldn't make his debut until I finished this damn book (which I've been reading since March). Now that I have, he can come any day!

1 comment:

Tom Goodfellow said...

I have yet to tackle The Old Pretender, but there is much to enjoy in earlier stuff. "Portrait of a Lady" and "Washington Square" are both fantastic, and not at all difficult.

Good luck with the baby!