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March 01, 2005

Reading The Ambassadors: Read This First

(I'm going to leave this list at the top of the page for a day or two, and then move it to the top of the Ambassadors Archive.)

¶ Group readings on Good For You follow a novel template. The only text to appear in the posts proper will have been extracted from the pertinent chapter. My comments (this is R J Keefe, prop., speaking) will join everyone else's below the post proper. Keep your eyes on the Comments (N) spot. In another deviation from standard practice, I intend not to post the first comment to any chapter - so don't wait for me! As soon as someone posts a comment to a given chapter post, I will upload a page for the next chapter. Send procedural questions to me via email instead of asking them in comments.

¶ Comments will be accepted for every chapter indefinitely. If you arrive to find that some readers are well into the book, don't feel that you must start your comments wherever they are. I hope that this reading will be highly recursive, with new posts to "old" chapters refreshing everyone's experience.

¶ You will probably find it most useful to engage in this group read via the Ambassadors archives. Good For You has not been turned over Henry James for the duration, and other posts will appear amid the ones that you're looking for.

¶ I'd like to keep our reading focused on the novel itself, but I know from experience how tempting tangents can be. I urge you post tangential comments here, and not to the chapters that inspired them. I reserve the right to move such comments here, but I'd rather be spared such labors.

¶ Because I'm making this up as I go along, you might find it useful to check this page from time to time for recent promulgations.

Posted by pourover at March 1, 2005 11:41 PM

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Dear RJ,

I'm not sure I'm putting this in the right place but did want to say it somewhere to you on your site.

Over on JamesF-l I had the impulse to tell how I first came to read James and want to tell this here. Perhaps others can join in:

The first novel by Henry James I read was The Princess Casamassima. It was assigned in a general education introduction-to-literature course at Queens College, CUNY. The year was probably 1966. I liked it - though I can't say I was "hooked" on James. The Professor was Clinton F. Oliver, a gentleman and learned scholar of an "old school." He came from the West Indies and had been educated at Harvard. I have very pleasant memories of him and his teaching, though it was not his teaching that made me like the book. It was the book. It was he who encouraged me to become an English major. I was probably around 19 years old at the time. I really have him to thank. This past spring when on Trollope-l we read The Princess Casamassima it gave me odd feelings to read my old annotations in the margins. I copied out what he said and added my own (somewhat naive) remarks. Then in another class, this time for English majors and in American the American novel, a professor had us buy a volume of which included James's novellas and short stories. I was very taken with Washington Square. I was very moved, found the story unforgettable, the heroine admirable. I loved her -- and hated the father :). I saw her as having won the only way one can win. She never sold herself. I can still picture the volume: pink. It had the text of Madame de LaFayette's La Princess de Cleves (in English) in it. How appropriate.

It was after this that I began to read James on my own. The following year I won a scholarship to study at Leeds University in England. I found I had much extra time at an English university and used it to read freely and among the authors I went for was Henry James: The Golden Bowl was my first choice because I found a copy in a train station (W. H Smith). It was this novel that clinched my love for James. That year on another train I read The Wings of the Dove as the trains circled to Italy through the Italian Swiss mountains. I stayed for three days in Venice during that trip and carried The Wings of the Dove around with me.

I've since read many of the novels and stories - I've not read them all. I did read 3 of Edel's 5 volume biography some time later on. A favorite was Roderick Hudson.

Since then I've learned how useful -- brilliant in every way and interesting - is James's criticism and I also much enjoy his travel writing. I really just love the criticism. I prefer it to some of the fiction -- very much. The notebooks of James's private thoughts - the fragments and memories of how he developed his stories and characters - as edited by Matthiessen are invaluable. This year I fell in love with English Hours which I have in a beautiful edition by the Library of America: it has lovely illustrations, so evocative.

This year I'm trying to reread a good deal of James for a project I'm working on -- which focuses on Anthony Trollope. I've become intrigued by how James imagines characters susceptible to some inward transformation attempt to recreate their identity as English or European. I've been listening to The Portrait of a Lady as read aloud by Nadia May and am intrigued by Osmond and Madame Merle. Osmond's wicked wit came from James :). I much favor Jame Campion's feminist take on the book as about harassment: the old flattering plot of the princess with her suitors becomes several obdurate men who won't give Isabel any space. Malkovitch was unforgettable as a malicious animus: a young Adam Verver? far more candid than the Jamesian one.

It's a beautiful day and Jim and I are going to a Mediterranean Valentine, a performance by In-Series Theatre at the National Museum for Women tonight -- it's put on by Carla Huber.


Posted by: Chava at February 13, 2005 01:21 PM

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