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View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Who is the Greatest Woman Novelist since 1950? (294 comments)

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  •  For pure linguistic virtuosity (2+ / 0-)
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    RiveroftheWest, Brecht

    I would say Henry James, especially The Portrait of a Lady.  James's novels of the 1870s and 1880s represent to me the ultimate pitch of linguistic sensitivity and psychological observation.  

    •  I agree with all you say. And he was huge for long (3+ / 0-)
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      RiveroftheWest, llywrch, Youffraita

      after he wrote, among other writers and critics, seen as pre-eminent. He's fallen from favor in recent decades.

      The two strongest points against him are, he can feel cerebral, a bit anemic - he doesn't get caught up in his characters as Dickens (or even Tolstoy) would, so readers aren't always moved by his drama.

      Also, while some say his latest novels show the English language refined to perfection, more say that he got lost in his verbiage: as H. G. Wells put it, it's like an elephant trying to pick up a pea with its trunk.

      As I said, I'm closer to your view - but I think the criticisms are valid.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 12:03:54 PM PDT

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      •  Taming James (3+ / 0-)
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        Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

        Yes, I can understand the criticism as well, particularly regarding those later novels, which are formidable to the point of being involuted.  That's why I specified the works from earlier in his career, although even there the tempo indications usually range between adagio and andante.  Portrait of a Lady starts with almost daring slowness, but few novels have rewired my brain as that one did. The later works are a challenge, though. I remember that after trying to get through Wings of the Dove that reading Shakespeare was like slicing through warm butter....

        •  That's funny. I found that, after reading most of (2+ / 0-)
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          RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

          Shakespeare, pretty much every book since then was like slicing through butter.

          But you can glide through the Bard, without worrying about the two-thirds you miss with your brain off; you can't get very far with James if you're not prepared to stop and ponder the subtleties and implications.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:08:16 PM PDT

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          •  The Elizabethan World Picture. (2+ / 0-)
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            Brecht, RiveroftheWest

            I took Shakespeare in high school, and we read, for background, a short pb called The Elizabethan World Picture. It made Shakespeare much more comprehensible b/c you then knew some of the things he references which we no longer believe in.

            And there's nothing like an annotated version of the plays to help sort things out.

            I must say, I think Shakespeare is a whole lot easier to read than Henry James. William James, by comparison, is a font of crystal-clear prose.

            Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

            by Youffraita on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 11:19:37 PM PDT

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            •  I spent seven years in the Shakespeare Ensemble, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

              in college. It was like a small, concentrated R&BLers. It was pretty wonderful: Discussing the Bard, putting on his plays, and partying with friends who cared enough to soak him up (and many other plays and books, too). Mostly we got outside directors in, so we were learning new skills and finding new angles every semester.

              I'm ambivalent about Henry James, but very fond of William, and his writing. Henry's very good at short stories.

              I'll have to write diaries, eventually, on Henry James and on Thomas Hardy. There is more good in both of them than most modern readers realize - a lot of people find Hardy as pointless as you do.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 01:01:17 PM PDT

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              •  It's not that I find him pointless (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Brecht

                it's that I don't feel he's worth reading.

                Didactic much?

                He's the nineteenth century forerunner of Ayn Rand.

                NOT that their political philosophies are similar: no, not at all.

                It's that their abilities to write good prose are identical.

                Wooden. Stilted. Horrible.

                ...are merely a few of the adjectives that come to mind.

                Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

                by Youffraita on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 01:06:36 AM PDT

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