Friday, February 27, 2009

Watch and Ward. Henry James.

(Novel, 1871). New York: The Library of America, 1983.

Why read it? Why read Henry James? For many reasons. He expresses the intricacies of relationships, how people think and feel in relation to others. His character studies reveal the complexity of personality. He throws off ideas and memorable words almost as afterthoughts. One will find many a mot juste in his novels. And he deals mainly with the relationships of unsubtle, honest and straightforward Americans against the subtle, devious, cultured Europeans. However, Watch and Ward deals only with America and is an early novel.

The idea behind the novel is bizarre. Roger Lawrence adopts a little girl and brings her up to be his perfect wife. Only he doesn’t tell her that that has been his reason until she is fully grown and then she rebels against his intentions. Two young men who have courted her turn out to be untrustworthy (I was going to say, “complete jerks”) and she finally realizes that Roger is the only man she know who has a heart and, I assume, she marries him.

Some sample ideas:

Of Roger Lawrence: “In trifling matters, such as the choice of a shoemaker or a dentist, his word carried weight, but no one dreamed of asking his opinion in politics or literature.” p. 4. ………. “It was quite out of his nature to do a thing without distinctly knowing why.” p. 6. ………. “It was a specialty of Hubert’s that in proportion as other people grew hot, he grew cool” p. 66.

“There are men born to imagine things, others born to do them.” p. 106. ………. “Plainness in a child was almost always prettiness in a woman.” p. 22. ………. “She had reached that charming girlish moment when the broad freedom of childhood begins to be tempered by the sense of sex.” p. 26. ………. “It’s interesting to hear about people one looks like.” p. 79.

Nora to Roger: “You must keep your journals carefully, and one of these days I shall have them bound in morocco and gilt, and ranged in a row in my own bookcase.” Roger: “That’s but a polite way of burning them up…. They will be as little read as if they were in the fire. I don’t know how it is. They seemed to be very amusing when I wrote them: they’re as stale as an old newspaper now.” p. 34. ………. “…but he felt as if to settle down to an unread author were very like the starting on a journey.” p. 37. ………. “To go into most of the churches [in Rome] is like reading some better novel than I find most novels.” p. 88.

“I wish Roger had left you alone and not smothered you beneath this monstrous burden of gratitude.” p. 110.

In this one, I think the plot is better than the characters. RayS.

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