Thursday 16 July 2015

A James Centenary

It was on this day 100 years ago that Henry James, in a rare affirmative foray into the world beyond the personal (as he might have put it), became a British citizen.
Carl Van Doren in The American Novel describes the moment thus:

'The war shattered his peace beyond repair. This lover of art who had not taken the trouble to form an opinion concerning the Dreyfus case, who had little more to say of the Boer War than that it doubled his income tax, who had vaguely hoped that the war with Spain might educate Americans as imperialism had educated the English, who had looked with candid contempt upon the Irish aspirations for freedom, now woke to the crisis of the world with a passion which ceased only with his death in 1916. There was nothing complicated in his loyalty, nothing critical in his attitude toward the drama being enacted. His “Europe”—France, England, Italy—had been assailed in utter wantonness; the barbarians were pounding at the gates and might at any moment break in to befoul the pavements and violate the shrines of his sacred city. His own distant country looked on without lifting a helping hand, and he saw no better way to signify his protest and his allegiance than by becoming a British citizen in 1915, declaring “civis Britannicus sum” with a Roman boast, and ending his career, as he had begun it, on the note of romance.'

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