Henry James

We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Never say you know the last word on any human heart.

The Ambassadors

Their possessor was in truth, it may be communicated, the mistress of a hundred cases or categories, receptacles of the mind, subdivisions for convenience, in which, from a full experience, she pigeon-holed her fellow mortals with a hand as free as that of a compositor scattering type. (21)

She watched him with all her kindness. "That means simply that you've recognised me--which is rather beautiful and rare. You see what I am." (25)

She was surely not to break away at the very moment she had created a want. (34)

The Catholic Church, for Waymarsh--that was to say the enemy, the monster of bulging eyes and far-reaching quivering groping tentacles--was exactly society, exactly the multiplication of shibboleths, exactly the discrimination of types and tones, exactly the wicked old Rows of Chester, rank with feudalism; exactly in short Europe. (38)

He was extraordinarily glad to see her, expressing to her frankly what she most showed him, that one might live for years without a blessing unsuspected, but that to know it at last for no more than three days was to need it or miss it forever. 80

"It doesn't alter the fact that you're expensive. You've cost me already--!"

But he had hung fire. "Cost you what?"

"Well, my past--in one great lump. But no matter," he laughed: "I'll pay with my last penny." 40

"...What I've seen so often spoiled," she pursued, "is the happy attitude itself, the state of faith and--what shall I call it?--the sense of beauty." 87

"The others have all wanted so dreadfully to do something, and they've gone and done it in too many cases indeed. It leaves them never the same afterwards; the charm's always somehow broken. Now he, I think, you know, really won't. He won't do the least dreadful little thing. We shall continue to enjoy him just as he is. No--he's quite beautiful. He sees everything. He isn't a bit ashamed. He has every scrap of the courage of it that one could ask. Only think what he might do. One wants really--for fear of some accident--to keep him in view. At this very moment, perhaps what mayn't he be up to? I've had my disappointments--the poor things are never really safe; or only at least when you have them under your eye. One can never completely trust them. One's uneasy, and I think that's why I most miss him now. 87

His highest ingenuity was in keeping the sky of life clear of them [explanations]. Whether or no he had a grand idea of the lucid, he held that nothing ever was in fact--for anyone else--explained. One went through the vain motions, but it was mostly a waste of life. A personal relation was a relation only so long as people either perfectly understood or, better still, didn't care if they didn't. From the moment they cared if they didn't it was living by the sweat of one's brow; and the sweat of one's brow was just what one might buy one's self off from by keeping the ground free of the wild weed of delusion. 92

This assault of images became for a moment, in the address of the distinguished sculptor, almost formidable: Gloriani showed him, in such perfect confidence, on Chad's introduction of him, a fine worn handsome face, a face that was like an open letter in a foreign tongue. 120

Strether, in contact with that element as he has never yet so intimately been, had the consciousness of opening to it, for the happy instant, all the windows of the mind, of letting this rather grey interior drink in for once the sun of a crime not marked in his old geography. 120

The Figure in the Carpet

I remember him saying of her that she felt in italics and thought in capitals.

Portrait of a Lady

She had suddenly found the infinite vista of a multiplied life to be a dark, narrow alley with a dead wall at the end. 474

The Golden Bowl

He had been pursuing for six months as never in his life before, and what had actually unsteadied him, as we join him, was the sense of how he had been justified. Capture had crowned the pursuit--or success, as he would otherwise have put it, had rewarded virtue; whereby the consciousness of these things made him, for the hour, rather serious than gay. 30

The Prince's dark blue eyes were of the finest, and on occasion, precisely resembled nothing so much as the high windows of a Roman palace, of an historic front by one of the great old designers, thrown open on a feast-day to the golden air. 56

Ah, darling, goodness, I think, never brought anyone out. Goodness, when it's real, precisely, rather keeps people in. 32

He looked about, to put himself more in relation with the place; then, after a hesitation, seemed to speak certain words instead of certain others. 46

The young man remembered even now how extraordinarily clear--he couldn't call it anything else--she had looked, in her prettiness, as she had said it. He also remembered what he had been moved to reply. "The happiest reigns, we are taught, you know, are the reigns without any history." 33

"Therefore it is that I want, that I shall always want, your eyes. Through them I wish to look--even at any risk of showing me what I mayn't like. For then," he wound up, "I shall know. And of that I shall never be afraid. 47

The young man's expression became, after this fashion, something vivid and concrete--a beautiful personal presence, that of a prince in very truth, a ruler, warrior, patron, lighting up brave architecture and diffusing the sense of a function. It had been happily said of his face that the figure thus appearing in the great frame was the ghost of some proudest ancestor. Whoever the ancestor now, at all events, the Prince was, for Mrs. Assingham's benefit, in view of the people. He seemed, leaning on the crimson damask, to take in the bright day. He looked younger than his years; he was beautiful, innocent, vague. 56

Mrs. Assingham denied, as we know, that her husband had a play of mind; so that she could, on her side, treat these remarks only as if they had been senseless physical gestures or nervous facial movements. 73

They amounted perhaps only to a wordless, wordless smile, but the smile was the soft shake of the twisted silken rope... 493

It was just this hampered state in him, none the less, that she kept before her when she wished most to find ground of dignity for the hard little passion which nothing he had done could smother. There were hours enough, lonely hours, in which she let dignity go; then there were others when, clinging with her winged concentration to some deep cell of her heart, she stored away her hived tenderness as if she had gathered it all from flowers. 489

Her comprehension soared so high that the wonder for her became really his not feeling the need of wider intervals and thicker walls. Before that admiration she also mediated; consider as she might now, she kept reading not less into what he omitted than into what he performed a beauty of intention that touched her fairly, the more by being obscure. It was like hanging over a garden in the dark; nothing was to be made of the confusion of growing things, but one felt they were folded flowers, and their vague sweetness made the whole air their medium. 498-499

But Fanny shook her head, and it was quite as if, as an appeal to one's intelligence, the making out of Amerigo had, in spite of everything, long been superseded. Then Maggie measured the reach of her allusion, and how what she next said gave her meaning a richness. No other name was to be spoken, and Mrs. Assingham had taken that, without delay, from her eyes--with a discretion, still, that fell short but by an inch. "You know how he feels."

Maggie at this then slowly matched her headshake. "I know nothing."

"You know how you feel."

But again she denied it. "I know thing. If I did--I"

"Well, if you did?" Fanny asked as she faltered.

She had had enough, however. "I should die," she said as she turned away. 505

Of a sudden, somehow, and quite as by the action of their merely having between them these few written words, an extraordinary fact came up. He was with her as if he were hers; hers in a degree and on a scale, with an intensity and an intimacy, that were a new and strange quantity, that were like the irruption of a tide loosening them where they had stuck and making them feel they floated. What was it that, with the rush of this, just kept her from pushing out her hands to him, from catching at him as, in the other time, with the superficial impetus he and Charlotte had privately conspired to impart, she had so often, her breath failing her, known as the impulse to catch at her father? 527

The aspern papers

I delight in a palpable imaginable visitable past--in the nearer distances and the clearer mysteries, the marks and signs of a world we may reach over to as by making a long arm we grasp an object at the other end of our own table. The table is the one, the common expanse, and where we lean, so stretching, we find it firm and continuous. That, to my imagination, is the past fragrant of all, or of almost all, the poetry of the thing outlives and lost and gone, and yet in which the precious element of closeness, telling so of connexions but tasting so of differences, remains appreciable. With more moves back the element of the appreciable shrinks--just as the charm of looking over a garden-wall into another garden breaks down when successions of walls appear. The other gardens, those still beyond, may be there, but even by use of our longest ladder we are baffled and bewildered--the view is mainly a view of barriers. The one partition makes the place we have wondered about other, both so richly and recognizably so; but who shall pretend to impute an effect of composition to the twenty? We are divided of course between liking to feel the past strange and liking to feel it familiar; the difficulty is, for intensity, to catch it at the moment when the scales of balance hang with the right evenness. I say for intensity, for we may profit by them in other aspects enough if we are content to measure or to feel loosely.

Preface to The Aspern Papers

the bostonians

That was the worst of coming back; it was like being born again, at one's age—one had to begin life afresh. One didn't even know what one had come back for. (8)

...she always felt more at her ease in the presence of anything strange. It was the usual things of life that filled her with silent rage; which was natural enough, inasmuch as, to her vision, almost everything that was natural was iniquitous. (12)

It was one of those talks which people remember afterwards, in which every word has been given and taken and in which they see the signs of a beginning that was to be justified. (84)

Miss Chancellor would have been much happier if the movements she was interested in could have been carried on only by the people she liked, and if revolutions, somehow, didn't always have to begin with one's self—with internal convulsions, sacrifices, executions. A common end, unfortunately, however fine as regards a special result, does not make community impersonal. (113)

It was amazing how many ways men had of being apathetic; these two were very different from Basil Ransom, and different from each other, and yet the manner of each conveyed an insult to one's womanhood. (123)

She considered men in general as so much in the debt of the opposite sex that any individual woman had an unlimited credit with them; she could not possible overdraw the general feminine account. (141)

...and his glimpse, repeated on the morrow, of the strange, beautiful, ridiculous, red-haired young improvisatrice, unrolled itself in his memory like a page of interesting fiction. (206)

Its importance was that Verena was unspeakably attractive, and this was all the greater for him in light of the fact, which quietly dawned upon him as he stood there, that he was falling in love with her. It had tapped at his heart for recognition, and before he could hesitate or challenge, the door was sprung open and the mansion was illuminated. He gave no outward sign; he stood gazing as at a picture; but the room wavered before his eyes, even Verena's figure danced a little. (275)

..."I'll tell you what is the matter with you—you don't dislike men as a class!" Verena had replied on this occasion, "Well, no, I don't dislike them when they are pleasant!" As if organized atrociousness could ever be pleasant. Olive disliked them most when they were least unpleasant. (294)

It was not, after all, so easy to keep back only a little; it appeared rather as if one must either tell everything or hide everything. —Verena (295)

Olive's figure, as she went by, was, for Verena, full of a queer, touching, tragic expression, saying ever so many things, both familiar and strange; and Basil Ransom's companion privately remarked how little men knew about women, or indeed about what was really delicate, that he, without any cruel intention, should attach an idea of ridicule to such an incarnation of the pathetic, should speak rough, derisive words about it. (327)

Chivalry had to do with one's relations to the people one hated, not with those one loved. (403)

Positive it is that she spared herself none of the inductions of a reverie that seemed to dry up the mists and ambiguities of life. These hours of backward clearness come to all men and women, once at least, they read the past in the light of the present, with the reasons of things, like unobserved finger-posts, protruding where they never saw them before. The journey behind them is mapped out and figured, with its false steps, its wrong observations, all its infatuated, deluded geography. They understand, as Olive understood, but it is probable that they rarely suffer as she suffered. The sense of regret for her baffled calculations burned within her like a fire, and the splendor of the vision over which the curtain of mourning now was dropped brought to her eyes slow, still tears, tears that came one by one, neither easing her nerves nor lightening her load of pain. (423)