Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jamesian Struggles

[Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett]

13th Feb. 1897

Dear Garnett,

I had this morning a charming surprise in the shape of The Spoils of Poynton sent to me by Henry James, with a very characteristic and friendly inscription on the flyleaf.* I need not tell you how pleased I am. I have already read the book. It is as good as anything of his -- almost -- a story of love and wrong-headedness revolving around a household of artistic furniture. It's Henry James and nothing but Henry James. The delicacy and tenuity of the thing are amazing. It is like a great sheet of plate glass -- you don't know it's there till you run against it. Of course I do not mean to say it is anything as gross as plate glass. It is only as pellucid as clean plate glass. The only fault I find is its length. It's just a trifle too long. Personally I don't complain, as you may imagine, but I can imagine with pain the man in the street trying to read it! And my common humanity revolts at the image of his suffering. One could almost see the globular lobes of his brain painfully revolving and crushing, mangling the delicate thing. As to his exasperation, it is a thing impossible to imagine and too horrible to contemplate.

I send you some thirty pages of MS. ** I am heartily ashamed of them and am afraid that this instinct of shame is right. I feel more of a humbug than ever -- and yet I lay my shame bare to you because you wish it. My wife is this moment reading reverently James' book, and trying honestly to distinguish its head from its tail. Her reverence is not affected. It is a perfectly genuine sentiment inspired by me: but her interest is, I suspect, affected for the purpose of giving me pleasure. And she will read every line! 'Pon my word it's most touching and only women are capable of such delicately penetrating sacrifices. I do nothing but yawn and tear my hair.

J. Conrad

*The inscription was: 'To Joseph Conrad in dreadfully delayed but very grateful acknowledgement of an offering singularly generous and beautiful. Henry James. Feb. 11, 1897.'

**Very probably a part of his short story "Karain".

-from Joseph Conrad : life and letters, v.1 / ed. G. Jean-Aubry.
New York : Doubleday-Page, 1927.

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