Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Quintessential Jamesian Sentence

I've been reading Henry James's The Ambassadors, about which I may post in the next week or so although I am still processing. Rather late in the novel I ran across the following sentence which strikes me as perhaps the most characteristically Jamesian sentence of the whole book. I wouldn't say it is my favorite sentence (actually, an aggregation of all my favorite sentences in the book would make a decent post in itself), but it seems to me to have all the touches one expects of James—expects either with pleasure or a roll of the eyes. Best of all, though, it is a short sentence (relatively speaking); these elements are represented, but not in profusion.

He perceived soon enough at least that, however reasonable she might be, she wasn't vulgarly confused, and it herewith pressed upon him that their eminent "lie," Chad's and hers, was simply after all such an inevitable tribute to good taste as he couldn't have wished them not to render.

Qualifications, qualifications to qualifications, value-laden adverbs clinging desperately to their rather generic adjectives, appositions which are meant to clarify but are in fact doing their best merely to direct traffic, immensely complex negations—all combining to form a sentence that is basically un-paraphrasable and certainly irreducible. To say it differently would, one feels, be to invite a complete semantic collapse—either nonsense or the barest triviality would result.

What is your favorite Jamesian sentence, or one you consider particularly characteristic of his style?

1 comment:

Ondine said...

"It was in the way the autumn day looked into the high windows as it waned; in the way the red light, breaking at the close from under a low, somber sky, reached out in a long shaft and played over old wainscots, old tapestry, old gold, old color." - The Beast in the Jungle

Possibly not typical, but nostalgic in both style and theme :)