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.