Saturday, January 03, 2009

from Leon Edel's "The Conquest of London"

Before the conquest of London, Henry James tried surviving in New York City, and then laying Paris to siege. The passage, a graceful conclusion to this part of the biography, describes his farewell to Paris.

He had written a long article on Balzac before taking up residence in the French capital. And now, on the eve of leaving, he wrote another. This time he reviewed Balzac's letters, lately published. They fired his imagination. For the first time the story of Balzac's fierce dedication, his methods of work, his stubborn professionalism, his grandiose sense of metier was told in detail. Certain phrases from the letters were to be echoed again and again by Henry in his correspondence with his family during the coming years. He seems to have been fascinated by Balzac's Napoleonic promises to those nearest him: glory justified everything, glory would pay for everything. Henry saw in this a "magnificent egotism" and an "incomparable power." As Henry prepared to cross the Channel, he could say to himself that he had now fully mastered the lesson of Balzac. He too could possess, as artist, a kind of massive egotism; he too was not to be swayed from his course where his craft was concerned; and he too would try to fill Quincy Street with the reflected rays of the glory he was certain he would attain. Ambitious and resolute, Henry left Paris without regrets. It was but one more step in his advancing career. He had "tried" New York. he had by now spent a full year in France, largely in Paris. He was about to try London. In his journal a single phrase gives us the best reason for his departure: "I should be an eternal outsider," James summed up.

I'm not leaving Paris for London, or New York for anywhere else (for the time being), but, leaving the Old Year for the New, I am fired by Henry fired by the French master. Resolution and Independence! Glory or Death!


2 comments:

Eshuneutics said...

You had better be a salamander ;-0

Jee Leong Koh said...

Pray for me, brother.