While writing yesterday’s post, I got tangled in a Twitter “conversation” with people who were pretending to be crazy; it was about, in a sense, The Ambassadors, and in the course of it I realized that Alexander Payne’s brilliant closing segment (link goes to the clip) of the anthology film Paris je t’aime (2006) is an adaptation of The Ambassadors. The most direct evidence is at the six-minute mark. Payne also borrows a bit from the closely related “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903).
Maybe it was something I’d forgotten, or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive.
That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.
The internet does not seem to be aware of any of this, so it is a gift from me to some poor schmoe writing a paper on Alexander Payne and adaptation.
Now, a question. What in the devil are these:
… and if he had never seen her so soundless he had never, on the other hand, felt her so highly, so almost austerely, herself: pure and by the vulgar estimate "cold," but deep devoted delicate sensitive noble. (7.3)
He was neither excited nor depressed; was easy and acute and deliberate – unhurried unflurried unworried, only at most a little less amused than usual. (8.1)
The occupant of the balcony was after all quite another person, a person presented, on a second look, by a charming back and a slight shift of her position, as beautiful brilliant unconscious Mamie – Mamie alone at home, Mamie passing her time in her own innocent way, Mamie in short rather shabbily used, but Mamie absorbed interested and interesting. (9.3)
In case my edition was full of typos, I checked against two other sources. The punctuation – and rhymes! – are just as I have them. This is new in James, right? New in, well, everybody. I have been pushing on with shorter James, “The Papers” and so on, and I have not noticed these unpunctuated chains of adjectives.
There is a conventional explanation that the late James style is a combination of the way James talked with a switch from writing to dictation. Lambert Strether, the center of this novel, frequently speaks like James thinks.
“How can he but want, now that it’s within reach, his full impression? – which is much more important, you know, than either yours or mine. But he’s just soaking,” Strether said as he came back, “he’s going in conscientiously for a saturation.” (9.1)
It is not just the hesitations – although Strether does wander – “as he came back,” exactly – but the metaphors that not only become part of speech, but are actually developed. “Soaking” continuing to “saturation.” Why is Strether so “tormented”?
“Because I’m made so – I think of everything.” (9.1)
His companion’s response is that “’One must think of as few things as possible,’” but I do not believe that option is available to Strether. He is in this sense the shadow of his creator. James, too, thinks of everything.
Still – “unhurried unflurried unworried” – that’s not the way anyone talks, is it, even Henry James? What is it?