Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, Art and Artistry Within Prose

“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord.
Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue
after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure
of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds. No, it was not their
colours: it was the poise and balance of the period itself. Did he then
love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than their associations
of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as weak of sight as he was
shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from the reflection of the glowing
sensible world through the prism of language many coloured and
richly storied than from the contemplation of an inner world of
individual emotions mirrored perfectly in a lucid supple periodic
prose?” (Joyce 140).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford University Press, 2000.

In his religious devotion, Stephen still focuses on artistry and the imagery behind each word of a phrase. From a single phrase he reads, Stephen extrapolates its meaning and how it serves to create a world within its reader’s imagination.

 

Henry James, “The Middle Years”

“This was the laceration – that practically his career was over: it was as violent as a rough hand at his throat” (James, 337).

The vivid and morbid imagery here is quite shocking. The use of the word “laceration” and the simile, “as violent as a rough hand at his throat” goes to show just how deeply Dencombe resonated the purpose of his life to his writing.

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 337.

Henry James, “The Middle Years”, Blog Observation

“It had taken too much of his life to produce too little of his art. The art had come, but it had come after everything else.” (338).

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

Here Dencombe reflects on his past and the time it took to produce such a small quantity of art. While Dencombe finally realizes his work’s significance and value, he is met with the inevitable fact that his time is slowly dwindling away.

James, “The Middle Years”

“Dencombe was a passionate corrector, a fingerer of style; the last thing he ever arrived at was a form final enough for himself” (344).

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

Dencombe’s continuous dissatisfaction with his published works translates into his existential despair about his ending life. Just as he edits the first edition of The Middle Years, he craves more time to rewrite his life, which, for much of the story, he believes he can change if given a second chance.

“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. 

Henry James, “The Middle Years”, Observation

“He couldn’t have chanted to himself a single sentence, couldn’t have turned with curiosity or confidence to any particular page.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 337.

Dencombe is struggling with many losses, including but not limited to his life and his identity and his career as an author, which is incredibly important to him. This realization that he cannot remember a single detail of his revisions, for him especially, is something out of nightmares.

James, “The Middle Ages” Commonplace Book Entry: The Purpose of Life

“ ‘A second chance—that’s the delusion. There never was to be 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.” In Complete Stories 1892-1898, edited by John Hollander and David Bromwich, 335-55. New York: Library of America, 1996, p. 354

All the doubt and fear Dencombe felt was the accumulation of passion which he designated to be the purpose of human life and as a result, his passion for writing gains the respect and admiration of Doctor Hughes. His work is what inspires and preserves the doctor’s passion for literature (a dying field.) In a handful of words, the author portrays a fulfilled circle of life one that serves to reassure us of own doubts. Rather than try and dismiss our fear of the uncertainty, it is portrayed as being a necessary component of passion that drives us to live. This vicious cycle of self-doubt, regret, and fear finds itself in our lives and our sense of fulfillment, but perhaps this is necessary to help us complete our purpose?

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.

James, “The Middle Years.” Topic: Observation

This act, and something in the movement of either party, instantly characterised the performers- they performed for Dencombe’s recreation- as opulent matron and humble dependant.

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” In Complete Stories 1892-1898, edited by John Hollander and David Bromwich, 335-55. New York: Library of America, 1996, p. 336.

when does trio on beach become performers? being observed transforms people into performers (not only their fluid movements, but they must be seen), dichotomy of opulent matron/ humble dependant related to observer/performer?

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.