Sunday, January 22, 2006


The American by Henry James, that is. The second novel in my ‘chronological reading of Henry James’ project, and so different to the first novel, Roderick Hudson.

Roderick Hudson read to me like a real beginner’s novel (although there were several flashes of the sparkling prose he would write so much more of in the future) with mistakes such as naming the two main male characters Roderick and Rowland – everyone knows that using the same first letter for two major characters is a huge mistake! Again and again whilst reading, I stumbled over this small but significant irritation. The story itself is quite simple – Rowland Mallet is a wealthy and cultured young American man who decides to sponsor the brilliant (younger American) sculptor Roderick Hudson, who ends up losing his head over a beautiful and cruel young woman in the pleasure grounds of Europe. To be completely honest, I found the novel clumsy in many ways, as if it was constantly looking for its purpose but never quite finding it. The other major irritation was the dialogue which didn’t flow naturally to my ear, and that James used in a rather ham-fisted way in places to push forward the narrative. However, it was fascinating at the same time, given that it was James’ first novel.

The American is a different book entirely. Although I detected a slight lack of purpose as with Roderick Hudson (though not so pronounced), it was much more engaging and structured. I found The American to be a real page turner and read the last 100 pages at one sitting – something I rarely do these days. If I have one complaint, it is the light nature of James’ characters – they never feel entirely drawn and the ‘hero’, Christopher Newman, is rather unconvincing. Perhaps this was the first hint of James evolving his style of writing from a central character’s consciousness as he does in The Portrait of a Lady? Although, for my money, he certainly didn’t achieve that with Christopher Newman. The dialogue in The American is a bit hit and miss, but a huge improvement on its use in Roderick Hudson.

I’m thoroughly enjoying this project so far. Next it’s on to The Europeans but first I’m going to have a bash at Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.


Cailleach said...

I can't believe hw much you love this man's writing! You should give talks on him... then maybe people would stop writing such hurtful things about his writing! ;¬)

Another thing struck me too, today... Rock Hudson; Roderick Hudson...?

Messalina said...

I joined a Henry James discussion list the other week and have been inundated with emails ever since from all these learned James scholars who write their own books on him - talk about being out of my depth! I need about 2 hours a week just to read them all, let alone keep up with reading James!

Yes, I wonder if Mum and Dad Rock Hudson were James fans? Hmm...