making sense of this strange and brilliant life


On January 23, 1895, after the withdrawal of his Guy Domville to make way for a new play by Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Henry James seemed to be determined that his failure in public would result in the creation of immortal work. He confided to his notebook: “I take up my old pen again––the pen of all my old unforgettable efforts and sacred struggles. To myself––today––I need say no more. Large & full & high the future still opens. It is now indeed that I may do the work of my life. And I will.”

In The Mature Master, the second volume of his biography of James––the first, The Young Master, appeared in 1996––Sheldon M. Novick notes what happened next in James’s notebooks. After a gap marked by a set of x’s, James wrote: “I have only to face my problems.” Then, after more x’s, he added: “But all that is of the ineffable—too deep and pure for any utterance. Shrouded in sacred silence let it rest.” Then more x’s. What could James possibly have meant here?

more from Bookforum here.