Four Novellas by Henry James

Daisy Miller — An innocent but flirtatious American girl visits Europe and comes to a bad end, after scandalizing local society. A young American ex-patriate regrets that he didn’t try harder to win her. He realizes he has lived away from America too long, but stays in Europe anyway.

The Aspern Papers — A literary critic believes that a very old woman possesses love letters or other documents she received from the great poet Jeffrey Aspern before his death many years ago. The old woman lives in Venice with her niece. The critic plots to get access to the papers. The story has enough suspense to maintain interest, and suggests that Venice, at least in the 19th century, must be visited one day.

The Turn of the Screw — A ghost story and a really bad one. James applies his heavily psychological treatment of situations, glances and dialogue to the story of a governess and two children. It’s not clear until the end that the ghosts are real. The story is more annoying than frightening. The conclusion is anti-climactic.

The Beast in the Jungle — A man tells a woman that he believes something extraordinary will happen to him one day. They meet years later. She has not forgotten their first meeting, although he has. She agrees to watch for this great thing that will happen to him. Years pass as they keep meeting and talking. She knows what this thing will be, but dies without clearly telling him. He realizes too late: “he had been the man of his time, the man, to whom nothing on earth was to have happened”. She offered him a way to avoid his fate, by loving her, but he was too foolish and egotistical to understand. The story is written in James’s mature style, with words upon words, and very little clearly said. (2/22/10)