The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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February 27, 2012

Only connect: Clover and Henry and Isabella

The American novelist Henry James, who had moved to London in 1876 and was living nearby, thought Clover and Henry to be 'launched very happily in London life,' as he wrote in a letter to his family. James was staying in a modest apartment two blocks away from the Adamses, on Bolton Street, and in the later afternons, after he finished writing, he often stopped by for some of Clover's tea and gossip. They were the same age, and having grown up together in Boston and Cambridge, knew many of the same people. He thought Clover had 'intellectual grace.' She called him Harry. At thirty-six, Harry had -- in the words of Cynthia Ozick -- 'become Henry James,' the celebrated author of the best-selling Daisy Miller. The novelist, who cut an impressive figure, was solidly built, with a bread and receding brown hair, a strong profile, and a quiet, self-absorbed manner. ... He was in the midst of an intensely creative period, having already written The Ameican, The Europeans, and a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne, among other essays and short stories. He finished Washington Square in the freezing winter of 1879 and laid plans for draftingm the following spring, what he called his 'wine-and-water' novel, The Potrait of a Lady.
      Did Henry James talk with Clover about what he was writing? Neither one said. But surely these two confirmed raconteurs exchanged stories, chitchat, turns of phrase -- at one point James promised to bring her 'plenty of anecdotes -- if your store has got low.' James considered Henry Adams 'a trifle dry,' but he found Clover 'conversational, critical, ironical,' with a wit distinguished by 'a touch of genius.' Clover throught James talked a lot, but fussed over him and fretted over his extended absence from America and his literary reputation. ...
      Clover reported to her father that Henry James, on hearing that she and Henry planned to spend the next months in Paris, felt 'half disposed to go with us.' Whether they all traveled together, no one said, but the three turned up around the same time in mid-September of 1879 in the City of Light.
      ... On September 13, for her thirty-sixth birthday, they went to the Louvre, where they feasted on the Old Masters; Clover discovered that 'every time one comes back to the good pictures they seem better.' Afterwards, they met with James for dinner at an open-air cafe and went to the Paris circus, followed by ice cream on the wide boulevard of the Champs-Elysees.
      The three revelers were joined that same evening by Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband, Jack. Clover had known 'Mrs. Jack,' as everyone called her, since her marriage in 1860. The two women, only three years apart in age, had much in common, inhabiting similar social circles both in Boston and on the North Shore, where the Gardners had a summer home in Beverly. They had met in Washington when Mrs. Jack traveled to the capitol, and again in London, where they attended a party at the Grosvenor Gallery and critiqued English fashion 'for twenty minutes side by side in the vestibule waiting for our respective broughams.'
from Clover Adams:  a gilded and heartbreaking life, by Natalie Dykstra

The assigned book for my college American literature class (or one of them, anyway) was The Education of Henry Adams, but I remember being much more interested in the story of his wife, Clover. So I was very happy to discover this new biography, and even happier to find Henry, and Mrs. Jack, in its pages.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Aww, she called him Harry! I would never think to do that to Henry James! And that's an interesting way to describe Portrait of a Lady as his 'wine-and-water novel', although I'm not sure exactly what he means by it. And now I want to have ice cream in Paris! ;)

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