“The Middle Years” by Henry James Commonplace-Book Entry: Prediction of Future Apprentice

“Chance had brought the weary man of letters face to face with the greatest admirer in the new generation whom it was supposable he possessed. The admirer, in truth, was mystifying, so rare a case was it to find a bristling young doctor–he looked like a German physiologist–enamoured of literary form. It was an accident, but happier than most accidents, so that Dencombe, exhilarated as well as confounded, spent half an hour in making his visitor talk while he kept himself quiet.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 342.

Tone change in Dencombe from reminiscent and sorrowful to pleasantly surprised and appreciative. It seems as though meeting Doctor Hugh, a smart and young admirer of Dencombe’s artistic touch in literature, was a rare, fateful occurrence to Dencombe, which seems to make him truly happy and forget his mournful attitude that his old age has given him about life. Perhaps when Dencombe reveals his true identity to Doctor Hugh, he could solve his problem of not having enough time left to create more books using his refined talent, by training Doctor Hugh to become his successor in creating artful stories for him, so that his legacy as an author can still live on through Doctor Hugh, whom Dencombe also seems to admire in return.

Commonplace-Book Entry: “The Middle Years” by Henry James, Unfinished Dream

“‘Yes, it’s what passes.’ Poor Dencombe was barely audible, but he had marked with the words the virtual end of his first and only chance.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 355.

This story ends on a more sad and thoughtful note, as neither Doctor Hugh nor Dencombe, himself, were able to give Dencombe his dream of another chance at life, and without explanation as to what the other characters, such as Doctor Hugh, did after Dencombe passed. I feel that this deviates from the traditional endings of stories where they are happy and every loose end is tied together nicely. I suppose that this ending is meant to reflect complex, realistic endings in life where people die and some of their hopes and dreams are left unfinished while those they know and love still have to continue living without them, surrounded by their unfinished projects. 

James, “The Middle Years”, and Observation

“He had followed literature from the first, but he had taken a lifetime to get alongside her. Only to-day, at last, had he begun to see, so that what he had hitherto done was a movement without direction. He had ripened too late and was clumsily constituted that he had had to teach himself by mistakes” (James 347).

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, 335-55. New York: The Library of America, 1996. pp. 347.

Dencombe in his fading health observes how despite his achievement  of a soon to be successful novel, it marks the end of his bittersweet career. In his struggle to reach his ideal through mistakes, he had squandered the limited time he had to live and lost the time he needed to reach perfection.

Henry James, “The Middle Years” Commonplace Book Entry: Losing and Holding On

“He was lost, he was lost– he was lost if he couldn’t be saved. He was not afraid of suffering, of death; he was not even in love with life; but he had had a deep demonstration of desire. It came over him in the long, quiet hours that only with ‘The Middle Years’ had he taken his flight; only on that day, visited by soundless processions, had he recognised his kingdom.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, 335-55. New York: The Library of America, 1996. pp. 345-46.

Dencombe is drowning in his many, palpable losses. His health, his memory, his identity as a writer, and his time to fully realize his potential as a writer are all slipping through his fingers. But the futile fight to keep these things from slipping into loss is not only frustrating– it’s fear-inducing. Has he actually, finally, found his “kingdom,” or is he fearfully grasping for any purpose to hang onto the life he is already losing?

The Middle Years: Living Documents, Dead Authors

“He lived once more into his story and was drawn down, as by a siren’s hand, to where, in the dim underworld of fiction, the great glazed tank of art, strange silent subjects float” (James 337).

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, Library of America, 1996, pp. 335–355.

Writing is bound up in its own world but the affect is transformative; what has already been written lives again as we read, and what may have originally been meant by the author is made into something new with each new reading.  It’s a kind of infinity.

The Middle Years Book Entry Second Chance 1

“He had had a revelation of his range. What he dreaded was the idea that his reputation should stand on the unfinished. It was not with his past but with his future that it should properly be concerned. Illness and age rose before him like spectres with pitiless eyes: how was he to bribe such fates to give him the second chance? He had had the one chance that all men have – he had had the chance of life.”

-James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 346.

The Middle Years Book Entry Second Chance 2

“‘You’ve made me think it all a delusion.’

‘Not your glory, my friend,’ stammered the young man.

‘Not my glory – what there is of it! It is glory – to have been tested, to have had our little quality and cast our little spell. The thing is to have made somebody care. You happen to be crazy, or course, but that doesn’t affect the law.’

‘You’re a great success!’ said Doctor Hugh, putting into his young voice the ring of a marriage-bell.

Dencombe lay taking this in; then he gathered strength to speak once more. ‘A second chance – that’s the delusion. There never was but one. 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.'”

-James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 354.