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 19, 2019

Henry on my walk to work



      'Now there is one place where perhaps it would be indelicate to take a Mississipian,' Verena said, after this episode. 'I mean the great place that towers among the others -- that big building with the beautiful pinnacles, which you see from every point.' But Basil Ransom had heard of the great Memorial Hal:  he knew what memories it enshrined, and the worst that he should have to suffer there; and the ornate, overtopping structure, which was the finest piece of architecture he had ever seen, had moreover solicited his enlarged curiosity for the last half-hour. He thought there was rather too much brick about it, but it was buttressed, cloistered, turreted, dedicated, superscribed, as he had never seen anything; though it didn't look old, it looked significant; it covered a large area, and it sprang majestic into the winter air. ... As he approached it with Verena she suddenly stopped, to decline responsibility. 'Now mind, if you don't like what's inside, it isn't my fault.
     He looked at her an instant, smiling. 'Is there anything against Mississippi?'
     'Well, no, I don't think she is mentioned. But there is great praise of our young men in the war.'
     'It says they were brave, I suppose.'
     'Yes, it says so in Latin.'
     'Well, so they were -- I know something about that,' Basil Ransom said. 'I must be brave enough to face them -- it isn't the first time.' And they went up the low steps and passed into the tall doors.
      ... Ransom and his companion wandered from one part of the building to another, and stayed their steps at several impressive points; but they lingered longest in the presence of the white, ranged tablets, each of which, in its proud, sad cleanness, is inscribed with the name of a student-soldier. The effect of the place is singularly noble and solemn, and it is impossible to feel it without a lifting of the heart. ... Most of them were young, all were in their prime, and all of them had fallen ... For Ransom, these things were not a challenge, nor a taunt; they touched him with respect... He was capable of being a generous foeman, and he forgot, now the whole question of sides and parties; the simple emotion of the old fighting-time came back to him, and the monument around him seemed an embodiment of that memory; it arched over friends as well as enemies, the victims of defeat as well as the sons of triumph.
      'It is very beautiful -- but I think it is very dreadful!' This remark, from Verena, called him back to the present. 'It's a real sin to put up such a building, just to glorify a lot of bloodshed. If it wasn't so majestic, I would have it pulled down.'
from The Bostonians, by Henry James

{A footnote in the edition I've been reading reminded me that Memorial Hall was built in the 1870s 'as a memorial to Harvard students and graduates who fought on the Union side in the Civil War; those Harvard men who fought and died for the South (60 or so out of a total of 200 dead) were not included.'}


1 comment:

Vintage Reading said...

Wonderful when we find literary connections in our daily lives. Lovely picture.

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