‘The Special Type’ by Henry James

The Special Type by Henry James, 1900

The magic trick:

A perfect premise for a story of manners

It took me about two months to read this story. I don’t know why. I’d start it, put it down, pick it up, start it over, get bored, put it back down. It just never really hooked me. Even as I finally plowed through the second half in one day, I wasn’t all that interested.

I’m not sure why. I think you just have to really be in the mood for these Henry James stories. They’re so dated. It’s like reading about a different world, and if you’re not in the mood to make that trip, then there’s just nothing else there for you. It’s a little like Oscar Wilde without the humor. Of course, there is the exquisite sentence structure. But even that is of a different time. The phrasing reeks of privilege, and sometimes it’s just exhausting.

Clearly, I just wasn’t in the right mindset for this one. What I can say is the plot itself is a perfect Jamesian setup. Two women, one very rich man trying to orchestrate a divorce while maintaining his reputation. It really is a premise that writes itself.

If you like that kind of thing.

And that’s quite a trick on James’s part.

The selection:

“Isn’t she lovely?” I remember asking – and quite without the spirit of mischief – when I came back from restoring my visitor to her cab.

“Yes, awfully pretty. But I hate her.”

“Oh,” I laughed, “she’s not so bad as that.”

“Not so handsome as I, you mean?” And my sitter protested. “It isn’t fair of you to speak as if I were one of those who can’t bear even the worst – or the best – another woman’s looks. I should hate her even if she were ugly.”

“But what have you to do with her?”

She hesitated; then with character looseness: “What have I to do with anyone?”

“Well, there’s no one else I know of that you do hate.”

“That shows,” she replied, “how good a reason there must be, even if I don’t know it yet.”

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