Thursday, June 12, 2008

homme du monde

Joseph Conrad to John Galsworthy

Pent Farm
Sunday evening [Feb. 11, 1899].

Dearest Jack,
Yes, it is good criticism. Only I think that to say Henry James does not write from the heart is maybe hasty. He is cosmopolitan, civilized, very much homme du monde and the acquired (educated if you like) side of his temperament,--that is,--restraints, the instinctive, the nurtured, fostered, cherished side is always presented to the reader first. To me even the R. T.* seems to flow from the heart because and only because the work, approaching so near perfection, yet does not strike cold. Technical perfection, unless there is some real glow to illumine and warm it from within, must necessarily be cold. I argue that in H. J. there is such a glow and not a dim one either, but to us used, absolutely accustomed, to unartistic expression of fine, headlong, honest (or dishonest) sentiments the art of H. J. does appear heartless. The outlines are so clear, the figures so finished, chiselled, carved and brought out that we exclaim,--we, used to the shades of the contemporary fiction, to the more or less malformed shades,--we exclaim,--stone! Not at all. I say flesh and blood,--very perfectly presented,--perhaps with too much perfection of method.

The volume of short stories entitled, I think, The Lesson of the Master contains a tale called "The Pupil," if I remember rightly, where the underlying feeling of the man,--his really wide sympathy,--is seen nearer the surface. Of course he does not deal in primitive emotions. I maintain he is the most civilized of modern writers. He is also an idealizer. His heart shows itself in the delicacy of his handling. Things like "The Middle Years" and "The Altar of the Dead" in the vol. entitled Terminations would illustrated my meaning. Moreover, your cousin admits the element of pathos. Mere technique won't give the elements of pathos. I admit he is not forcible,--or let us say, the only forcible thing in his work is his technique. Now a literary intelligence would be naturally struck by the wonderful technique, and that is so wonderful in its way that it dominates the bare expression. The more so that the expression is only of delicate shades. He is never in deep gloom or in violent sunshine. But he feels deeply and vividly every delicate shade. We cannot ask for more. Not everyone is a Turgeniev. Moreover Turgeniev is not civilized. (therein much of his charm for us) in the sense H. J. is civilized. Satis. Please convey my defence of the Master with my compliments. My kindest and grateful regards to Mrs Sauter and love to the boy. The finishing of "H. of D"** took a lot out of me. I haven't been able to do much since.

**The Heart of Darkness had just been completed.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 270-71.

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