Monday, February 23, 2009

Roderick Hudson. Henry James.

New York: The Library of America. 1876. (1983).

Why read it? Why read any Henry James novel or story? The insightful ideas about human relationships. The wit, the cleverness, the surprise at the language. Almost like Emerson, James writes in the sentence. It’s like an evening with Oscar Wilde. The characters take their shape. They don’t move very often. They talk. But clever talk it is.

Roderick Hudson is an egoist who manipulates people. We all know the type. It’s probably one part of all our personalities. He makes no attempt to hide his self-absorption. He makes no attempt to hide his making use of other people. In telling the story, James gives the reader some not-too-sophisticated insights into the world of sculpting. And of Rome and of Florence and of Switzerland—and Northampton, Massachusetts, by contrast with the former.

Basic plot: Wealthy, idle, Rowland Mallet befriends a young, egotistical, brilliant sculptor in Northampton, Massachusetts, America, Roderick Hudson. Takes him to Rome to study antique statuary, where he creates several minor works that are well received by experts in the arts. He falls in love with a beautiful young European woman who teases him, then is attracted to him, but marries a prince.

Some sample quotes:

Mr. Striker: “An antique, as I understand it…is an image of a pagan deity, with considerable dirt sticking to it, and no arms, no nose, and no clothes.” p. 205. ………. “What does it mean?” “Anything you please!” p. 259. ………. “He had been an ass, but it was not irreparable.” p. 257. ………. “Don’t you know how to do anything? Have you no profession? What do you do all day?” Rowland: “Nothing worth relating. That’s why I am going to Europe. There, at least if I do nothing, I shall see a great deal; and if I’m not a producer, I shall at any rate be an observer.” p. 216. ………. “Rowland received an impression that, for reasons of her own, she was playing a part. What was the part and what were her reasons?” p. 266. ………. “I think she’s an actress, but she believes in her part while she is playing it.” p. 293.

“There’s nothing I cannot imagine! That’s my trouble.” p. 351. ………. "There’s something very fine about him; he’s not afraid of anything. He is not afraid of failure; he is not afraid of ruin or death.” p. 433. ………. “…quite losing sight of his mother’s pain and bewilderment in the passionate joy of publishing his wrongs…. Since he was in pain, he must scatter his pain abroad.” p. 447. ………. “But I don’t care for her. I don’t care for anything. And I don’t find myself inspired to make an exception in her favor. The only difference is that I don’t care now, whether I care for her or not.” p. 478. ………. “But Mrs. Light told me, in Florence, that she had given her child the education of a princess. In other words, I suppose, she speaks three or four languages, and has read several hundred French novels.” p. p. 273.

“…if there is anything in faces, she ought to have the soul of an angel.” p. 273. ………. “And yet the Catholic Church was once the proudest institution in the world, and had quite its own way with men’s souls. When such a mighty structure as that turns out to have a flaw, what faith is one to put in one’s poor little views and philosophies? What is right and what is wrong? What is one really to care for? What is the proper rule of life? I am tired of trying to discover and I suspect it’s not worth the trouble.” p. 348. ………. “As yet, he reflected, he had seen nothing but the sunshine of genius; he had forgotten that it had its storms.” p. 249.

“The thing that yesterday was his friend lay before him….” p. 509.

I have read about one-quarter to one-half of Henry James’s novels and stories. And I am still reading. The interplay of mind and character and language gives me helpful insights into the human condition and that interplay is thought provoking. His novels and stories are loaded with ideas. RayS.

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