Sunday, February 24, 2019

Henry James visit to California

James’ The American Scene (1907) was to have an additional chapter, entitled “California” which was never written, but Philip Horne in the  9-21-18 issue of the TLS has found enough in letters and articles to provide what he believes to be the overview of what that chapter would have consisted of.  James is quoted from a letter, “California . . . has completely bowled me over – such a delicious difference from the rest of the U.S. do I find in it.  (I speak of course all of nature and climate, fruits and flowers; for there is absolutely nothing else, and the sense of the shining social and human inane is utter.)  The days have been mostly here of heavenly beauty, and the flowers, the wild flowers just now in particular, which fairly rage, with radiance, over the land, are worthy of some purer planet than this.  I live on oranges and olives, fresh from the tree, and I lie awake nights to listen, on purpose, to the languid lisp of the Pacific, which my windows overhang . . .”

I’m reminded of an earlier conversation in regard to how we should expect to enjoy retirement by (especially) reading the books we never got around to reading before we retired.  In my case I have already read all the books I wanted to read, before I retired.  Every book I wanted to read, I read (all of James’ novels, for example).  Of course there are many books I haven’t read, but they aren’t books I wanted to read. 

Someone may ask, “did you read X?”  And I may not have, but I probably considered him (or her) at one time and decided not to.  I’m not saying that my decisions were the best.  I’ve had occasion to read novelists that in the past I rejected and discovered later on that I enjoyed, but breaking through my initial prejudice was (is) difficult.

I have created list-like goals in recent years – to read criticisms and biographies, and then inspired by them to read (or reread) some of the poetry I may have unjustly failed to appreciate, but I have in most of these cases continued the neglect them.  My current effort is in regard to Browning.  I like a lot of his poetry, most of what appeared in his Men and Women (1855), for example, but I’ve decided to tackle Sordello, and then if that goes well to have another go at The Ring and the Book.  

I do regularly read the TLS, The London Review of Books, and The New York Review of Books, and regularly buy books that strike me as interesting.  They may be histories, biographies, works of criticisms, or the occasional novel, but my list of books to be read in retirement, remains blank.  ;-) 

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