• “You after all then now don’t?” Henry James (The Sacred Fount).

Henry James (1843-1916) is notorious for writing things like “What could he have done, after all, in her lifetime, without giving them both, as it were, away?” which comes from his short story, “The Beast in the Jungle.”Reading James can be extremely frustrating at first, but once you get through a particularly dense paragraph you find yourself feeling more confident and a bit snooty, like you’ve just followed some very tough directions for putting together a lamp or fixing a faucet, and succeeded.

The line above is from his novel, The Sacred Fount, considered by some critics to be unreadable. Actually, as a novel it is unreadable, but if you check in with it every now and again you can actually enjoy the book in short bursts, treat it like the merciless exercise in observation that it is, and, as R. P. Blackmur (1904-1965) has said, find the novel a “lucid nightmare of James’s hallucinated struggle with his conscience as a novelist.”

And don’t forget–that line above (preceded by dialogue asking a character if he still feels a certain way) really does make sense, if you read it enough times. (Originally posted January 2, 2013)