Sunday, 19 January 2014



To find Mr. Henry James among the ghost seers gives a reader pause. He has so long devoted his fine and unsubstantial art to the elucidation of the subtleties of a mood, he has so become the high priest of the Fine Shades in social life, that when he takes up a theme belonging to the Society for Psychical Research, it is as if Mr. Meredith should come out with a romance of the shambles. But if it is a new medium for Mr. James he manages it with all his remarkable delicacy, reserve, suggestion. In his new book, published by Mr. Heinemann in his Colonial Library with the title of "The Two Magics," there are two tales. It is the first that counts There is it house party deep in the shires, and the talk falls upon the uncanny. One of the party raises the expectation of the others by the premise of rare sport in that class, the diary of a governess whom he had employed to manage two young children, his wards. This story is indeed thrilling The lady first observes a man about the place who is apparently waiting intently for other than herself. On describing him to the housekeeper she learns that this is, or was, one Peter Quint, her employer's factotum, who had met a bad end. Presently another of these wraiths disengages itself, and this is found to be, or have been, Miss Jessell, the children's former governess, who likewise had died. These two, Quint and Jessell, had had an evil relation. All this is of the very commonplace. Mark the horror. The two children, lovely, engaging, altogether delightful, were conscious without fear of these apparitions, and were recipients of the evil influences of these when dead as they had been in their life. The boy had been dismissed from his school for some enormity. The girl never had left her home. What the unhappy lady found in coming to close quarters with the pair was that she had to deal with the demoniac. Quint and Jessell. This outline will serve to show the matter with which Mr. James is for the time concerned. We may notice before passing that this dreadful theme, almost beyond literary art and certainly beneath Mr James's, the corruption of children, is not absolutely new to him. A recent novel of his turned upon it. Profoundly repulsive and unreal as " The Turn of the Screw " is, nothing more exemplifies the literary art of Mr James. A reader almost holds his breath lest some slightest slip should break the thin ice upon which the unhappy governess moves ; some faintest word should obscure with grossness the transparency of the sad picture.
What relief it is to turn from this overburdened fantasy, which makes of tiny children the agencies of hell, to one of Mr James's sketches in his old manner. The scene is an ancient English manor house. The owner, Captain Yule, overwhelmed with ancestral debts, is summoned to Covering End to seal a bargain with one Prodmore, a capitalist, who proposes to marry his daughter to Yule and hand him his estate, otherwise unencumbered, if he will recant his radicalism and stand for the constituency as a Tory. Enter an American, the all-conquering, rich, young, audacious, beautiful American widow-woman. Mrs Gracedew is delightful, and for an example of the ease and dexterity with which Mr. James will make his charming country-women behave in situations that would turn an Englishwoman's hair grey, one should lead the scene in which she acts cicerone to two parties of tourists, or those in which she deals with the weak and triumphant Yule. Of course she saves him and Covering End by marrying off Miss Prodmore against her awful parent's will, and herself marrying Captain Yule.

The Sydney Morning Herald 25 February 1899

'The Two Magics.' by Henry James; William Heinemann, London.— 'The volume contains two stories, one entitled 'The Turn of the Screw' and the other 'Covering End,' but the connection of the titles with the stories is by no means plain. The first is a tale of the supernatural, in which the ghosts of a dead valet and a dead governess get mixed up with a couple of lovely living orphans, a very much-alive governess, and a buxom housekeeper. The incoherency of this tale and the silly, trashy nature of the other are enough to exasperate the most indulgent reader.

South Australian Register 25 February 1899

 . . . .The other is "The Two Magics," under which title Mr. Henry James includes two stories, "The Turn of the Screw" and "Covering End." Though utterly different in other respects, both are written in the fluent and polished style of this skilful and experienced raconteur, and both are steeped in an atmosphere of unreality which is baffling to the senses of the literal and unimaginative reader. The first describes the obsession of two young and exquisitely beautiful children by the spirits of a departed man and woman, conspicuous during their life on earth for mysterious and fiendish wickedness. Their influence over the children began during their life-time, and persists beyond the grave, their object being to draw their victims into the meshes of the same awful fate as has overtaken them. The horrors of the situation are cleverly portrayed, and the whole air is charged with mystery from the very opening of the story. With obscure suggestions, mysterious allusions, and gruesome hints, dropped here and there, the tragedy is gradually worked up in subtlest fashion, and half-revealed, half-concealed, the malign influence makes it presence increasingly felt. The same tendency to heighten the effect by leaving a large scope to the imagination of the reader is displayed in the conclusion, which is not only tragic, but unsatisfactory, since it gives no clue to the fate of one child; and but vaguely points to that of the other. Altogether, it is an unpleasant story; which cannot conceivably have a beneficial effect on the most innocent and healthy-minded reader, while on the ill-balanced and hysterical, imagination, its influence would certainly be unwholesome, if not positively injurious.
In "Covering End," the companion story, a beautiful and audacious American widow suddenly irupts at an English historical country seat, acts as cicerone to a party of visitors, buys up the mortgages, settles the love affairs of the mortgagor's daughter, and unceremoniously turns out the astonished gentleman himself, and finally becomes engaged to the young and handsome owner of the property —all in the course of a single breathless afternoon. This is surely a record day's work, even for an enterprising American woman! 

Australian Town and Country Journal  25 February 1899

No comments: