29 November 2011
For devotees of the short story, we've just launched several explanatory guides to the work of Henry James. Actually, the stories are not short by modern standards, but they have the distinction of all being very good. The Best in the Jungle is quite well known. It's about a man who has a presentiment that something momentous lies ahead for him in life, but he doesn't know what it will be. Not so well known, but amazingly contemporary in its relevance is The Papers which concerns, would you believe, journalists making up stories for newspapers to generate publicity for would-be celebrities. Four Meetings is an almost tragic tale of a gullible American schoolteacher who has a dream of seeing Europe but is conned out of it by an unscrupulous relative. Two stories are about women in relation to ships. In Pandora a spirited young American woman tweaks the nose of a young German diplomat who she meets on a cross-Atlantic liner, whilst in The Patagonia a similar young woman throws herself overboard rather than meet the man to whom she is going to be married. The Bench of Desolation is not nearly so gloomy as its title suggests, Fordham Castle is a story of an advanced form of social climbing - by pretending to be somebody else - and Daisy Miller is another of his acknowledged masterpieces about Americans in Europe, with the eponymous Daisy breaking social taboos at a cost to herself. Every one a gem, and a tribute to an author known to other writers simply as 'The Master'.