The Mote in the Middle Distance, H*nry J*m*s Summary

Max Beerbohm


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As indicated by the abbreviated name in the title, this story is a brilliant parody of an incident as it supposedly would be described by Henry James. The plot is somewhat obscure regarding specific details. Two precocious children, a boy and a girl, awake on Christmas morning to find filled stockings at the foot of each bed. The principal story line, however, seems to be a rambling account and speculation by the boy, Keith, on the psychological implications and barriers to ultimate fulfillment suggested by the occasion. It is the idea of seeing beyond the “mote” that is the principal impediment to his view of every aspect of his experience. He periodically ponders Eva’s motives for having dug into her stocking in her sleep before he was able to get at his own. This is followed by reflections on Eva’s character. Her “remoteness” is discussed in considerable detail with comparisons to a telephone conversation.

Keith’s analysis of Eva culminates in his annoyance at his sister’s perverse attitude about a lifelike doll that he presumes is included in the contents of her Christmas stocking. This minor irritation is followed by admiration for her “magnificence” and his acknowledgment that the encounter has changed him. That, in turn, leads to the narrator’s final sense of inferiority to his two friends, Keith and Eva, whom he occasionally visits even though he admits to never being able to come close to their standard of behavior or introspection....

(The entire section is 413 words.)