Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letter to Henry James II

Dear Mr. James,

I want to like you, I really do. I want to have a deep appreciation of your work. This would be much easier if you would stop writing stupid stories.

I speak too strongly. I admit, I liked "The Private Life." It was pleasant and clever. And since you have five volumes of short stories and novellas plus your novels (I hadn't realized you were so prolific!), I am sure to fine more that agrees with me.

My main qualm is one of your more famous works: The Turn of the Screw.

I don't understand why the characters do or say the things they do. The protagonist seems to always be coming to understandings which I, frankly, do not understand. She is always jumping to conclusions (interrupting other characters to do so) and I cannot follow her logic. And at the end, when the governess "triumphs" over the ghosts, I can't figure out why her actions were significant enough to cause a triumph.

I get lost in your pronouns. Remember what Miss Marple said: "pronouns...were always puzzling and [some] were particularly prone to strew them about haphazard." I think you should read more Agatha Christie, Henry darling.

In my last letter I accused you of being vague. I stand by that. The little boy, Miles, was expelled from school for "wickedness." Wickedness? Was he stealing and doing nasty things to fellow children and their pets using his budding magical prowess? By the end of the novella we discover he told things to people he liked. He was expelled for saying "things"? WTF, Hank?

Perhaps I am simply obtuse, Mr. James. But I am not yet convinced you aren't too abstruse. For now, we shall remain respectful acquaintances. I hope our friendship can blossom upon further association.

Yours truly,
Ms. Dutcher

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