Quotes about Henry James
22 Sourced Quotes
As a Nobel Prize winner I cannot but regret that the award was never given to Mark Twain, nor to Henry James, speaking only of my own countrymen. Greater writers than these also did not receive the prize. I would have been happy — happier — today if the prize had been given to that beautiful writer Isak Dinesen.
There's such a thing as having too much style. I think the only one who ever got away with it is Proust. He really had a perfect mating of material and style. Usually if you have a great style your material will be more constrained. That applies to Henry James and it applies to Hemingway.
Ironically, Henry James' biography comforts me & I long to make known to him his posthumous reputation — he wrote, in pain, gave all his life (which is more than I could think of doing — I have Ted, will have children — but few friends) & the critics insulted & mocked him, readers didn't read him.
The wisdom of literature is quite antithetical to having opinions. 'Nothing is my last word about anything,' said Henry James. Furnishing opinions, even correct opinions — whenever asked — cheapens what novelists and poets do best, which is to sponsor reflectiveness, to pursue complexity. Information will never replace illumination.
Great artists are always far-seeing. They easily avoid the big stumbling blocks of fact. They rely on their own simplicity and vision. It is fact-fetichism that has given us those scores and scores of American books on America, the works of sociologists, anthropologists, topical "problem" hunters, working-parties and statisticians, which in the end leave us empty. Henry James succeeds because he rejects information. He was himself the only information he required.
Tell a dream, lose a reader, said Henry James. Joyce told a dream, Finnegans Wake, and he told it in puns - cornily but rightly regarded as the lowest form of wit. This showed fantastic courage, and fantastic introversion. The truth is Joyce didn't love the reader, as you need to do. Well, he gave us Ulysses, incontestably the central modernist masterpiece; it is impossible to conceive of any future novel that might give the form such a violent evolutionary lurch. You can't help wondering, though. Joyce could have been the most popular boy in school, the funniest, the cleverest, the kindest. He ended with a more ambiguous distinction: he became the teacher's pet.
I will admit that an artist may be great and limited; by one word he may light up an abyss of soul; but there must be this one magical and unique word. Shakespeare gives us the word, Balzac, sometimes, after pages of vain striving, gives us the word, Tourgueneff gives it with miraculous certainty; but Henry James, no; a hundred times he flutters about it; his whole book is one long flutter near to the one magical and unique word, but the word is not spoken; and for want of the word his characters are never resolved out of the haze of nebulae. You are on a bowing acquaintance with them; they pass you in the street, they stop and speak to you, you know how they are dressed, you watch the colour of their eyes.
All his tunk-a-tunks, his hoo-goo-boos — those mannered, manufactured, individual, uninteresting little sound-inventions — how typical they are of the lecture-style of the English philosopher, who makes grunts or odd noises, uses homely illustrations, and quotes day in and day out from Alice, in order to give what he says some appearance of that raw reality it so plainly and essentially lacks. These tootings at the wedding of the soul are fun for the tooter, but get as dreary for the reader as do all the foreign words — a few of these are brilliant, a few more pleasant, and the rest a disaster: one cannot help deploring his too extensive acquaintance with the foreign languages, as Henry James said, of Walt Whitman, to Edith Wharton.