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Monday, August 15, 2016

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Initial Impressions: Henry James Complete Stories: 1864-1874

For my first post on this Monday:

I ordered a number of used copies of the Library of America ( website)'s collection of the 19th century American author Henry James' Complete Stories and Novels.  Two arrived on Thursday and several are scheduled to arrive today (Friday)  and more this week .My post today will give my initial impressions of the books I received in the mail. At least the first one, which I have started reading.

I know for many of you, the kinds of books I read are probably not the length you are used to.  I started reading adult-length books around the time I was 10 years old (in middle school). However, I feel that some diversity is always good.  So from time to time I will talk about classic books (the kinds you are made to read in high school literature classes) and other adult reading level books. I hope this does not bother any of the readers of the blog here? :)

This first book is the Complete Stories of Henry James 1864-1874.  James was born here in the United States in 1843 in New York City.  He was the second child to be born to his parents Henry Sr. and Elizabeth (his brother, William, later became a well-known philosopher).  These stories were published as a young man, the first when he was just 25.

The first three stories in this book are as varied as the man himself.  The first one, A Tragedy of Error, was submitted without signature to the Continental Monthly magazine in April of 1864.  It is a story about a woman who hires a hitman to eliminate her husband, so she can spend time with her lover.  But as the title indicates, this goes all wrong. It is a decent story for a first written attempt at a published story.  It was likely written as an experiment for his first attempt, but got published anyway.

The second one is an American Civil War tale.  Called "The Story of a Year", it's the tale of a man who leaves his family to go fight in the Civil War and returns home severely wounded.  I like this story better than the first one.  While it doesn't actually have any combat scenes (as a guy of my age would like), this is probably due to the fact that James himself was declared unfit to fight in the war due to a back injury he suffered some years before.  The characters in this tale are more definitely written and shaped, they feel more like human beings than mere characterizations.

The story I'm reading right now is called "A Day of Days".  This one might appeal to the ladies who read the blog, at least the ones old enough to understand what romance is and what it feels like.  James wrote for both male and female audiences, although apparently it was women who read most of his short story fiction. I haven't finished the story yet, but it does seem like a romantic tale to me. Which I am okay with - I have a cousin who writes mystery as well as romantic novels!

James wrote some 200 short stories - more than any modern day author would care to write, I'd think.  He continued writing short stories (as well as his many novels) up until his death in 1916.  He became a British citizen the year before he died, but is buried in Massachusetts here in the US.

These books are my first introduction to James' fiction - I also have two volumes of his literary criticism. It remains to be seen how much I will like him as an author of fiction.

Until next time -


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