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This was a little person whom I would have made a high bid for a good chance to paint. The head, the features, the color, the whole facial oval and radiance had a wonderful purity; the deep grey eyes -- the most agreeable, I thought, that I had ever seen -- brushed with a kind of winglike grace every object they encountered. Their possessor was just back from Boulogne, where she had spent a week with dear Mrs. Floyd-Taylor: this accounted for the effusiveness of her reunion with dear Mrs. Meldrum. Her black garments were of the freshest and daintiest; she suggested a pink-and-white wreath at a showy funeral. She confounded us for three minutes with her presence; she was a beauty of the great conscious public responsible order. The young men, her companions, gazed at her and grinned: I could see there were very few moments of the day at which young men, these or others, would not be so occupied.Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the encounter of America with Europe. His plots centered on personal relationships, the proper exercise of power in such relationships, and other moral questions. His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allowed him to explore the phenomena of consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting.James insisted that writers in Great Britain and America should be allowed the greatest freedom possible in presenting their view of the world, as French authors were. His imaginative use of point of view, interior monologue and unreliable narrators in his own novels and tales brought a new depth and interest to realistic fiction, and foreshadowed the modernist work of the twentieth century. An extraordinarily productive writer, in addition to his voluminous works of fiction he published articles and books of travel writing, biography, autobiography, and criticism,and wrote plays, some of which were performed during his lifetime with moderate success. His theatrical work is thought to have profoundly influenced his later novels and tales.
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YES INDEED, I SAY TO myself, pen in hand, I can keep hold of the thread and let it lead me back to the first impression. The little story is all there, I can touch it from point to point; for the thread, as I call it, is a row of coloured beads on a string. None of the beads are missing—at least I think they’re not: that’s exactly what I shall amuse myself with finding out.
I had been all summer working hard in town and then had gone down to Folkestone for a blow. Art was long, I felt, and my holiday short; my mother was settled at Folkestone, and I paid her a visit when I could. I remember how on this occasion, after weeks in my stuffy studio with my nose on my palette, I sniffed up the clean salt air and cooled my eyes with the purple sea. The place was full of lodgings, and the lodgings were at that season full of people, people who had nothing to do but to stare at one another on the great flat down. There were thousands of little chairs and almost as many little Jews; and there was music in an open rotunda, over which the little Jews wagged their big noses. We all strolled to and fro and took pennyworths of rest; the long, level cliff-top, edged in places with its iron rail, might have been the deck of a huge crowded ship. There were old folks in Bath chairs, and there was one dear chair, creeping to its last full stop, by the side of which I always walked. There was in fine weather the coast of France to look at, and there were the usual things to say about it; there was also in every state of the atmosphere our friend Mrs. Meldrum, a subject of remark not less inveterate. The widow of an officer in the Engineers, she had settled, like many members of the martial miscellany, well within sight of the hereditary enemy, who however had left her leisure to form in spite of the difference of their years a close alliance with my mother. She was the heartiest, the keenest, the ugliest of women, the least apologetic, the least morbid in her misfortune. She carried it high aloft with loud sounds and free gestures, made it flutter in the breeze as if it had been the flag of her country. It consisted mainly of a big red face, indescribably out of drawing, from which she glared at you through gold-rimmed aids to vision, optic circles of such diameter and so frequently displaced that some one had vividly spoken of her as flattering her nose against the glass of her spectacles. She was extraordinarily near-sighted, and whatever they did to other objects they magnified immensely the kind eyes behind them. Blest conveniences they were, in their hideous, honest strength—they showed the good lady everything in the world but her own queerness. This element was enhanced by wild braveries of dress, reckless charges of colour and stubborn resistances of cut, wondrous encounters in which the art of the toilet seemed to lay down its life. She had the tread of a grenadier and the voice of an angel.
In the course of a walk with her the day after my arrival I found myself grabbing her arm with sudden and undue familiarity. I had been struck by the beauty of a face that approached us and I was still more affected when I saw the face, at the sight of my companion, open like a window thrown wide. A smile fluttered out of it an brightly as a drapery dropped from a sill—a drapery shaken there in the sun by a young lady flanked by two young men, a wonderful young lady who, as we drew nearer, rushed up to Mrs. Meldrum with arms flourished for an embrace. My immediate impression of her had been that she was dressed in mourning, but during the few moments she stood talking with our friend I made more discoveries. The figure from the neck down was meagre, the stature insignificant, but the desire to please towered high, as well as the air of infallibly knowing how and of never, never missing it. This was a little person whom I would have made a high bid for a good chance to paint. The head, the features, the colour, the whole facial oval and radiance had a wonderful purity; the deep grey eyes—the most agreeable, I thought, that I had ever seen—brushed with a kind of winglike grace every object they encountered. Their possessor was just back from Boulogne, where she had spent a week with dear Mrs. Floyd-Taylor: this accounted for the effusiveness of her reunion with dear Mrs. Meldrum. Her black garments were of the freshest and daintiest; she suggested a pink-and-white wreath at a showy funeral. She confounded us for three minutes with her presence; she was a beauty of the great conscious public responsible order. The young men, her companions, gazed at her and grinned: I could see there were very few moments of the day at which young men, these or others, would not be so occupied. The people who approached took leave of their manners; every one seemed to linger and gape. When she brought her face close to Mrs. Meldrum’s—and she appeared to be always bringing it close to somebody’s—it was a marvel that objects so dissimilar should express the same general identity, the unmistakable character of the English gentlewoman. Mrs. Meldrum sustained the comparison with her usual courage, but I wondered why she didn’t introduce me: I should have had no objection to the bringing of such a face close to mine. However, by the time the young lady moved on with her escort she herself bequeathed me a sense that some such rapprochement might still occur. Was this by reason of the general frequency of encounters at Folkestone, or by reason of a subtle acknowledgment that she contrived to make of the rights, on the part of others, that such beauty as hers created? I was in a position to answer that question after Mrs. Meldrum had answered a few of mine.
FLORA SAUNT, THE ONLY DAUGHTER of an old soldier, had lost both her parents, her mother within a few months. Mrs. Meldrum had known them, disapproved of them, considerably avoided them: she had watched the girl, off and on, from her early childhood. Flora, just twenty, was extraordinarily alone in the world—so alone that she had no natural chaperon, no one to stay with but a mercenary stranger, Mrs. Hammond Synge, the sister-in-law of one of the young men I had just seen. She had lots of friends, but none of them nice: she kept picking up impossible people. The Floyd-Taylors, with whom she had been at Boulogne, were simply horrid. The Hammond Synges were perhaps not so vulgar, but they had no conscience in their dealings with her.
“She knows what I think of them,” said Mrs. Meldrum, “and indeed she knows what I think of most things.”
“She shares that privilege with most of your friends!” I replied laughing.
“No doubt; but possibly to some of my friends it makes a little difference. That girl doesn’t care a button. She knows best of all what I think of Flora Saunt.”
“And what may your opinion be?”
“Why, that she’s not worth troubling about—an idiot too abysmal.”
“Doesn’t she care for that?”
“Just enough, as you saw, to hug me till I cry out. She’s too pleased with herself for anything else to matter.”
“Surely, my dear friend,” I rejoined, “she has a good deal to be pleased with!”
“So every one tells her, and so you would have told her if I had given you the chance. However, that doesn’t signify either, for her vanity is beyond all making or mending. She believes in herself, and she’s welcome, after all, poor dear, having only herself to look to. I’ve seldom met a young woman more completely free to be silly. She has a clear course—she’ll make a showy finish.”
“Well,” I replied, “as she probably will reduce many persons to the same degraded state, her partaking of it won’t stand out so much.”
“If you mean that the world’s full of twaddlers I quite agree with you!” cried Mrs. Meldrum, trumpeting her laugh half across the Channel.
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