My Henry James Story on Spolia


I’m happy to announce that a story I wrote has been included in issue number 10 of Spolia. The concept was to write a story based on one of Henry James’ stories. In other words, it’s the literary equivalent of a Henry James covers album. The story I wrote, called “Trending,” is based on Henry James’ story, “The Papers.”

Click here for a link to issue number 10 of Spolia

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

Clockwise from top-left: Author Russell Thorndike; aerial photo of south-east England from Google Maps; Henry James in front of his house; Patrick McGoohan as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1964, Walt Disney Studios)

From a web site called Romney Marsh – The Fifth Quarter:

The novel Doctor Syn was published in 1915. It is set around the turn of the 18th century and tells the story of the Vicar of Dymchurch, who was once the notorious pirate Captain Clegg and now leads a secret life as the Scarecrow, head of a gang of smugglers.  The author was the actor and writer Russell Thorndike, brother of the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Such was the popularity of the original novel that Thorndike went on to write six others, which recount Doctor Syn’s earlier life.

And from Wikipedia:

The Romney Marsh is a sparsely populated wetland area in the counties of Kent and East Sussex in the south-east of England. It covers about 100 square miles (260 km²).

The flat, almost empty landscape made for asmuggler’s paradise throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries. Brandy and tobacco were brought in at night by boat from France to avoid high tax. Minor battles were fought, sometimes at night, between gangs of smugglers, such as the Hawkhurst Gang and the Revenue, supported by the army and localmilitias in the South, Kent and the West, Sussex.The traffic was two-way, since wool was also smuggled to the Continent.

The Victorians made smugglers into romantic anti-heroes; in truth they were unscrupulous villains. The main gangs on the Marsh were the Hawkhurst Gang, the Mayfield Gang and the Aldington Gang, known also as the Blues.

Romney Marsh has a distinguished literary history. Three authors who specifically used the marsh as settings for their works were E.F. Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia novels; Russell Thorndike, author of the Doctor Syn novels; and the children’s writer Monica Edwards, author of the Romney Marsh books in which Rye Harbour becomes “Westling”, Rye is renamed “Dunsford”, and Winchelsea is known as “Winklesea”.

Many other well-known writers have been associated with the area: Henry James, who lived in Rye; H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Radclyffe Hall, Noel Coward, Edith Nesbit, Rumer Godden, and Conrad Aiken. Rudyard Kipling and his Smugglers’ Song are famous.

Films about the Scarecrow include Dr. Syn (1937, London Films); Captain Clegg,  known as Night Creatures in the U.S. (1962, Hammer Films); and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1962, Walt Disney Studios). The Walt Disney production revised the character of Scarecrow into a kind of Robin Hood-type hero. Patrick McGoohan, who later created and starred in the original TV series, The Prisoner, starred as Dr. Syn, alias The Scarecrow.

Dig the cool theme song:

Awe-Inspired Paralysis

Clockwise from top left: Henry James, Joan Didion, Proust, Virginia Woolf, and a photo by Zan McQuade of Maud Newton interviewing Rupert Thomson

From Maud Newton:

Joan Didion suffered from an extreme case of awe-inspired paralysis. She told The Paris Review that, while Henry James was as formative as influence on her writing as Hemingway, she could no longer read him at all.

He wrote perfect sentences, too, but very indirect, very complicated. Sentences with sinkholes. You could drown in them. I wouldn’t dare to write one. I’m not even sure I’d dare to read James again. I loved those novels so much that I was paralyzed by them for a long time. All those possibilities. All that perfectly reconciled style. It made me afraid to put words down.

Read More

The photo of Maud and Rupert is by Zan McQuade, whose blog is called a cup of tea & a wheat penny

Aspern Papers & Ghost Stories

Consarn it, Maud Newton! I try not to feature any one blogger too often here at Bill Ectric’s Place, but you keep posting such damned interesting stuff! I’m referring to this and this.

I think that photo of Henry James , Edith Wharton , and Howard Sturgis would make a great poster. I’m going to look into getting the picture enlarged and framed.

Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Howard Sturgis in 1904

I, too, like James’   The Aspern Papers  better than Turn of the Screw or Daisy Miller, which are usually cited as his most famous works. I’m also partial to his  short story, The Author of Beltraffio.

Today I reserved a book at my local public library called The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton because I haven’t read any of those. I can also read them here, but I want an actual book I can carry around.

Notes on My Novel

Tamper strives to balance mainstream storytelling with some of the more modern conventions, sometimes called meta-fiction, without alienating fans of either style. This gives fans of both meta-fiction and mainstream fiction something to talk about. To borrow a phrase from Cory Doctorow, it “brings more people into the tent.”

 In his book, The Modern Weird Tale, S. T. Joshi describes “alternatives to supernaturalism” and cites Thomas Tryon’s 1973 novel Harvest Home, in which rural New England villagers practice pagan fertility rituals. In this grisly tale, as Joshi points out, when a skeletal apparition is revealed to be a disfigured man, it does not diminish the atmosphere of horror.  This is the same dynamic that gave me goose bumps as a child when I read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for the second or third time, even though I knew the morning light would find a shattered pumpkin on the riverbank near Ichabod Crane’s hat.  On a more ambiguous note, Henry James’ classic The Turn of the Screw has generated endless speculation because it leaves the reader to decide if the ghosts were real or imagined, and for that matter, if the ghosts were delusional products of the power of suggestion, does that make them any less supernatural?        

One reason why I am drawn to the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Jeff VanderMeer, Steve Aylett, and James Morrow is that they write for people who not only like to read, but who also enjoy the mechanics and study of literature, especially as it relates to the humanities. To again quote from S. T. Joshi’s The Modern Weird Tale, this time referring to Thomas Ligotti,  “One of Ligotti’s many distinctive attributes is the frequency with which he can metafictionally enunciate his own literary agenda in his tales. Many of his stories are just as much about the writing of horror tales as they are horror tales.”

Finally, one of the later chapters melts into stream-of-consciousness prose, albeit, more accessible than the dense work of James Joyce and William Burroughs. For people who are curious, but not used to, stream-of-consciousness, this chapter is a comfortable place to explore and still find your way out. It should also please the more serious fans of weird literature.

Henry James Kickin’ It in New York

Above: Map of Manhattan with Henry James, Sr & Jr,  The Village, Levi Asher

The following is an excerpt from Fred Kaplan’s book Henry James: The Imagination of Genius

“Henry junior remembered voyages northward from New York City on the newly built Hudson River Railroad, whose construction he and his friends celebrated with frequent treks from Fourteenth Street to the ‘upper reaches of the city,’ where there was ‘a riot of explosion and great shouting and waving of red flags.’  They imagined their visits ‘beset with danger.’  The city inexorably grew, avenues, transport, and housing yardsticking northward; the area between Union Square and Forty-second Street – Murray Hill, Chelsea, the Reservoir – a mixture of farms and newly built homes. Pigs snouted garbage in streets that would one day be the bright-lit center of the world. The first brownstones began to make what seemed to the elite of mid-nineteenth-century New York their monotonous chocolate extensions east and west from Broadway. To Henry junior, Broadway was ‘the joy and adventure of one’s childhood,’ stretching, ‘prodigiously, from Union Square to Barnum’s great American Museum by the City Hall.’  It was the street on which the city pulsated and from which everything radiated toward the distant rivers.  At one end of it, in the few square miles of lower Manhattan, trade, trading houses, and the stock exchange touched the piers from which wood-masted vessels connected New York with the rest of the world.”

And click here for Levi Asher on Greenwich Village at Literary Kicks.

Adrian Dover Hosts a Top-Notch Henry James Salon

Black & white photos are from the movie The Innocents (1961, 20th Century Fox), based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

I’ve discovered a ripping fun new playground!

 It’s a website dedicated to Henry James called The Ladder, created by Adrian Dover. The following is an excerpt from Mr. Dover’s introduction to the site:

“The major part of the contents of  The Ladder comprise electronic ‘editions’ of a selection of Henry James’s works. You can think of these as online versions of the modern paperback editions of literary classics – as well as the text, carefully edited from a single source, there are :

  • textual notes on the source and any amendments required during editing
  • annotations of the text explaining such things as:
  • o references to real persons and places
  • o references to other fiction by James or by earlier writers
  • o translations of foreign phrases
  • o the editor’s comments on occasional points of interest
  • a summary and a detailed (chapter by chapter) synopsis of the plot, so you can easily find passages you remember, by what happens
  • a brief introduction, suggesting a possible reading or just a good reason to read
  • a bibliography including original publications, subsequent reprints”

I highly recommend this site!