December 02, 2010

Ghosts- the lost, the past, the dead.

At age ten, my brother declared he was going to be a geneticist. "Why?" asked I. "So we will never have to die," he replied. Alas, he is long since gone.

In January 1895 Henry James anticipates the opening of his first play, "Guy Domville," in London. The production fails, and he returns, chastened and humiliated, to his writing desk. The result is a string of masterpieces, but they are produced at a high personal cost.

In "The Master " Colm Toibin captures the exquisite anguish of a man who circulated in the grand parlors and palazzos of Europe, who was astonishingly vibrant and alive in his art, and yet whose attempts at intimacy inevitably failed him and those he tried to love. It is a powerful account of the hazards of putting the life of the mind before affairs of the heart.

Soon after she died he wrote a story, 'Travelling Companions', in which William, travelling in Italy from Germany, met her by chance in Milan Cathedral, having first seen her in front of Leonardo's The Last Supper. He loved describing her white umbrella with a violet lining and the sense of intelligent pleasure in her movements, her glance and her voice. He could control her destiny now that she was dead, offer her the experiences she would have wanted, and provide drama for a life which had been so cruelly shortened. He wondered if this had happened to other writers who came before him, if Hawthorne or George Eliot had written to make the dead come back to life, had worked all day and all night, like a magician or an alchemist, defying fate and time and all the implacable elements to re-create a sacred life...

(Pavlova with her pet swan)

-The Master, Colm Tóibín

It’s an easy mistake to make, this casual assumption that a person’s resolute avoidance of commitment and their remorseless dedication to work mirrors a non-existing inner life.

Robert S. gifted me the book. It was the first time he had ever recommended I read anything. I dived into it; and as they say, the spell worked.

We both were saddned by failed relationships. We convinced each other that we had enough of love. From now on, we were going to model ourselfs on Henry James: get on with work, and wipe out all thought of further attachments. Contra mundum.

In the preface to The Turn of the Screw, Henry James wrote: "Make him (the reader) think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications." For evil, read regrets and longings, and for both of them, read this compelling, restrained book by a still young master.


Alistair said...

I'm glad I read the book again. But the rewards it offers are rewards the reader will have to work for. I think it is worth the effort.
Love the post.

Anonymous said...

A conundrum about Henry James was how such a master of insight into the human heart could appear to be so divorced from his own. The man who wrote so movingly about women seemed not to have more than friendships with them; the author of love affairs that often ruined his characters was never ruined himself.

Anja said...

I visited the Cambridge Cemetery on the chance that I might hear voices from the James family grave.
I knew that the psychologist William James and his brother Henry, the novelist, were the sort of people who’d oblige me, if they could. On William’s death in 1910, Henry actually stayed his return to England and lingered for six weeks in his brother’s house in Cambridge, with some hope that William’s spirit would make contact. Henry was disappointed by the ghost. So was I.

Karen (SAG) said...

Fascinating! Loved the post.
Now that you’ve appraised The Master, I may slip a toe into those cloudy waters. Reviews gave me the impression the book was drowning in somebody else’s tears. I’d prefer Michael Chambon in the movie.

Anonymous said...

Having just been greatly impressed with The Master , I was curious about what has been said. Yours is the most respectfully intriguing, though I found Toibin’s James not steely or repressed, but spinlessly avoiding taking any stance, ethically or morally, under the guise of superior grace and gentlemanly manners. Toibin is almost impossibly brilliant introducing a more complex version of james and how he manifests in his writing, all the while staying in period quasi- Jamesian prose as well as introducing the material for taking a current view of the era’s view of Homosexuality, feminism, class…I am fascinated by the seamless integration of all these elements, historical, fictional, psychological and literary.

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Synchronicity said...

How strange — I just heard about James in a class last week (really, someone just quoted him, it wasn’t about him) so I looked him up on the web. Odd that I would come across this post, having just learned about him for the first time.

The Edge Columns said...

Thanks Ms. E, will check out Toibin more fully. He's perhaps as or more complex than Henry James...

Ms Edna said...

All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again‽

.`·.¸.·´ ?
¸.·´¸.·´¨) ¸.·*¨)
(¸.·´ (¸.·´ .·´ ¸

Anonymous said...

nossa obrigada! amei!

Columbine said...

"We both worry about Constance. There are depths which neither of us have fully explored, but we have gained a great idea of her." -The Master, Colm Tóibín

A new way of looking. We thrive on instinct, gut reactions, first impressions, when really, we're all just a sketch to each other.

Anonymous said...

Let me re-write what you erased:
How to stay immortal, when telephone calls are no longer.

Mona said...

The Master by Colm Toibin, its all I want a day with him and endless coffee.