“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.
“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?