A Week in October

Landscape by Emmanuel Lansyer, Godard Mill at Cernay, France, 1865
Landscape by Emmanuel Lansyer, Godard Mill at Cernay, France, 1865

The following is drawn from The Daily Henry James: A Year of Quotes from the Work of the Master, which compiles a quote from Henry James’s work for every day of the year, and first appeared in 1911 with James’s cooperation.


It might be an ado about trifles—and half the poetry, roundabout, the poetry in solution in the air, was doubtless but the alertness of the touch of Autumn, the imprisoned painter, the Bohemian with a rusty jacket, who had already broken out with palette and brush; yet the way the color begins in those days to be dabbed, the way, here and there, for a start, a solitary maple on a woodside flames in single scarlet, recalls nothing so much as the daughter of a noble house dressed for a fancy-ball, with the whole family gathered round to admire her before she goes. One speaks, at the same time of the orchards; but there are properly no orchards when half the countryside shows, the easiest, most familiar sacrifice to Pomona. The apple tree in New England plays the part of the olive in Italy, charges itself with the effect of detail, for the most part otherwise too scantly produced, and, engaged in this charming care, becomes infinitely decorative and delicate. What it must do for the too under-dressed land in May and June is easily supposable; but its office in the early autumn is to scatter coral and gold. The apples are everywhere and every interval, every old clearing, an orchard. You pick them up from under your feet but to bite into them, for fellowship, and throw them away; but as you catch their young brightness in the blue air, where they suggest strings of strange-colored pearls tangled in the knotted boughs, as you notice their manner of swarming for a brief and wasted gayety, they seem to ask to be praised only by the cheerful shepherd and the oaten pipe.

—New England: An Autumn Impression, 1905


The talk was so low, with pauses somehow so not of embarrassment that it could only have been earnest, and the air, an air of privilege and privacy to our young woman’s sense, seemed charged with fine things taken for granted.

The Papers, 1903


One of the things she loved him for, however, was that he gave you touching surprises in this line, had sudden in consistencies of temper that were all to your advantage. He was by no means always mild when he ought to have been, but he was sometimes so when there was no obligation.

The Princess Casamassima, 1886


Sanin’s history is weighted with the moral that salvation lies in being able, at a given moment, to turn on one’s will like a screw. If Mr. Turgénieff pays his tribute to the magic of sense he leaves us also eloquently reminded that soul in the long run claims her own.

Ivan Turgénieff, 1878


The old gentleman, heaven knew, had prejudices, but if they were numerous, and some of them very curious, they were not rigid. He had also such nice inconsistent feelings, such irrepressible indulgences, and they would ease everything off.

The Reverberator, 1888


Surprise, it was true, was not, on the other hand, what the eyes of Strether’s friend most showed him. They had taken hold of him straightway, measuring him up and down, as if they knew how; as if he were human material they had already in some sort handled. Their possessor was in truth, it may be communicated, the mistress of a hundred cases or categories, receptacles of the mind, subdivisions for convenience, in which, from a full experience, she pigeon-holed her fellow-mortals with a hand as free as that of a compositor scattering type.

The Ambassadors, 1903


“If you’ll help me, you know, I’ll help you,” he concluded in the pleasant fraternizing, equalizing, not a bit patronizing way which made the child ready to go through anything for him, and the beauty of which, as she dimly felt, was that it was not a deceitful descent to her years, but a real indifference to them.

What Maisie Knew, 1898


A suppositious spectator would certainly, on this, have imagined in the girl’s face the delicate dawn of a sense that her mother had suddenly become vulgar, together with a general consciousness that the way to meet vulgarity was always to be frank and simple.

The Awkward Age, 1899

The Daily Henry James: A Year of Quotes from the Work of the Master will be published, with a new introduction by Michael Gorra, by the University of Chicago Press on November 12.

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