James never finished The Sense of the Past. He began it in the autumn of 1899, but something within the work resisted completion. In August 1900, James writes to Howells, “The damnable difficulty is the reason; I have rarely been beaten by a subject, but I felt myself, after upwards of a month’s work, destined to be beaten by that one” (Letters TV, 151). Six weeks later, he writes to Howells again that he is “laying it away on the shelf for the sake of something that is in it, but that I am now too embarrassed and preoccupied to devote more time to pulling out” (161). He mentions that he has begun two novels, these being The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove. James did not return to The Sense of the Past until 1914. Again progress was painfully slow. “I have come back,” he wrote to Hugh Walpole, “to the ability to push a work of fiction of sorts uphill at the rate of about an inch a day” (Letters TV, 751). All momentum was lost with the outbreak of war and the collapse of James’s health. Nevertheless, as Percy Lubbock asserts in the preface to the first edition, James intended to return to the novel late in 1915, shortly before his death.
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