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Henry, who had not written a line of verse since youth

It is lovely to have a few days in Warsaw. As you can see from this photograph, through the kitchen window of the Praga apartment, two of the three trees I see every day have lost all their leaves.

Trees from kitchen window, with dying herbs in foreground.

I was a bit exhausted yesterday from the recent round of traveling, but maybe that is to be expected. If I have class Tuesdays and Thursdays, and spend every Friday through Monday traveling all over the country, well then, Wednesday has to be the day off. It feels self-indulgent, but there has to be at least one day a week off.

I finished reading David Lodge’s biographical novel Author, Author, about Henry James, today. My parents sent it to me a few weeks ago but I have only finished it now. It was lovely–especially poignant for someone like me who is also embroiled in theatrics. I can’t help but feeling that James’s condescension towards theater is a large part of why he never had any real success in the form. At the same time, I feel sorry for his sufferings at its hands.

Here are a few quotes:

“He [James] had endeared himself to them [the actors] by providing refreshments. Shocked to discover that they were expected to rehearse from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon without sustenance, and feeling not a little peckish himself on these occasions, he arranged for Mrs Smith to prepare daily a hamper of sandwiches and other cold victuals which her husband delivered to the theatre at noon, and from which Henry invited the actors to help themselves when they were ‘off’. Miss Robins remarked that it was the first time in her experience that a playwright had thought of feeding his company.” (p. 134)

A hamper! A hamper! So British right now! Also, did anyone else hear that line as “first time…that a playwright had thought of EATING his company? Just me?

“Just before he [James] was finally, finally finished with The American [the theatrical adaptation of the novel of the same name] he heard again from Daly, who wanted more cuts and revisions of Mrs Jasper and asked if he could supply an amusing piece of verse in rhyming couplets for Ada Rehan to recite at the end of the play, a la Restoration comedy. Henry, who had not written a line of verse since youth, was dismayed by this suggestion, but, perceiving in these demands that the New York production must be imminent, gamely composed a pretty, genial, graceful speech in rhythmical prose for the purpose…” (p. 165)

I’d like to see that “rhythmical prose” speech. The idea of Henry James writing any kind of verse is horrifying.

“Decorum in the ordinary as well as the literary sense of the term required that the fictitious author [Dencombe, in a James story called “The Middle Years”] should be denied this happy consummation. Dencombe must die at the end of the story, in his middle years, his life’s work incomplete. Imagining himself in this plight Henry summoned up a deathbed speech of such poignancy and eloquence that it brought tears to his own eyes as he penned it: ‘ “A second chance–that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” ‘” (p. 168)

But in spite of all temptations…
to-wards happier con-su-mmay-tions…
he remains an ENGLISHMAN…

(those James “madness of art” lines are the epigraph for the entire Lodge novel)

and the last one, a real punch in the stomach:

“…it was just as well that she should be under no illusions as to his real feelings. About some things they communicated more honestly through their fictions than in their conversations.” (p. 169)

Oh, snap! All quotes from Author, Author, by David Lodge (2004).

In other theatre-variety news, I’m very, very happy that Cherrie Moraga’s Kickstarter for “New Fire” has come through. I’m also very happy that M. Hilyard, P. Ward and D. Sanders are previewing tonight in J. Wright’s HAVE YOU SEEN ALICE? at NOTE. I hope they have a brilliant run.

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