Reading some of Henry James’s “short” stories

2693.jpgHenry James was even more absurdly prolific as a story writer than he was as a writer of novels. And almost all of his stories are extremely long: ten thousand words would be a short one, for him. I’ve read many of his most famous shorts: “The Beast In The Jungle”, “The Aspern Papers”, “Washington Square” (which some would call a novel). But I recently decided to dip back into that well with this NYRB collection: The New York Stories of Henry James.

I previously had a lot of luck with the NYRB collection The New York Stories of Edith Wharton, so I was not unexcited about this volume. Though I was also a bit trepidacious. I’ve had mixed luck with Henry James. Sometimes his stuff has simply bored me to tears.

And I could see how many of these stories could be boring. For instance, one of them is about this pair of Englishmen who visit New York, and they go tramping around the city, complaining about how incredibly hot it is, before going to visit someone to whom they’ve been given a letter of introduction. Then that guy tells them to go visit his wife and her sister in their summer home on Long Island, so the Englishmen dutifully go off to the Hamptons (or wherever it is), and only then, a fourth of the way through the story, do we get a sense of what it’s really about: this English guy, a lord, is falling for this American girl, even though everybody around him keeps saying that once he’s back in England the whole thing will completely foolish.

Before this conflict appears, we’re basically just reading on trust, which is not an amazing state of affairs. But you know what? I think I’ve finally achieved some level of trust in Henry James. I read these stories and I go through the initial part, and I’m like, okay, I’m here, waiting, because I know something really subtle and psychologically astute is going to happen. And then it does.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m into it. It’s taken me a long time, but I think I might actually like Henry James.