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Through a glass darkly
am 27. November 1999
I've carried on a love-hate affair with The Wings of the Dove for more than 20 years. In that period of time, I started the novel (the same beautiful little Signet paperback edition) at LEAST 15 times and could never get past page 30 or so. But it kept nagging at me to read it. Last summer, I plowed through its dense prose thicket, and I felt as though I were peering through a glass darkly. Several times I felt like tossing it aside. I've studied Enlish and literature all my life and yet I had one heckuva time with those daunting banks of prose. But I'm glad I read it. It's masterful. Worth all the effort. Those scintillating scenes in Venice. Nothing like them! I just read The Golden Bowl, another difficult but rewarding book. There are astonishing scenes in it, like when the husband of the busy-body watches her in a pensive mood as if she were in the middle of a lake, coming closer. It's just an extraordinary scene! I love early James too, like that perfect jewel of a book, Washington Square. Sometimes, great as the late books are, I really do think they lose something of the wonderful clarity James achieved earlier. There are still a few scenes in Wings and Bowl, for instance, in which I have NO IDEA what James was trying to express. Talk about super subtle! But do make the effort, folks, they're incredible books.