James was addressing only the most intelligent readers imaginable—both of his day and of the future. Now in the twilight of his career, he had long since reconciled himself to being appreciated only by the best minds in the United States, England, and France and to being ignored by purchasers of best-selling popular fiction and theatergoers who wanted only sentimental melodrama. He simply could not alter his literary style, which remained complex, imagistic, and demanding.
The account opens with its narrator eager to exchange New York, repeatedly called “the terrible town,” and New Jersey, with its ugly roads and evidence of crude new money, for safe New Hampshire, which has a “feminine” landscape instantly reminding him of Italy. An example of his recurrent disorientation comes when, in the library of the Law School at Harvard University, he spies an old friend but does not walk over and speak to him. Returning to Manhattan for a closer inspection, James senses its power but likens its new skyscrapers to pins in a huge pincushion, and to broken teeth of an upended comb whose shadows eclipse revered old buildings. On Ellis Island, he is oppressed by the sight of alien hordes and feels stunned, actually dispossessed himself. Here and later, he expresses ambivalent attitudes toward America’s old and new minorities, especially Irish, blacks, Italians, Chinese, and the “swarming . . . of Israel.” James dislikes new Gotham’s overly democratic...
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