Henry James pp 128-132 | Cite as

Magnifying the Minute

  • Desmond MacCarthy
Part of the Interviews and Recollections book series (IR)


In Henry James’s later letters his voice is audible; nor is this surprising, for his letters were often dictated, and his conversation, in its search for the right word, its amplifications, hesitations and interpolated afterthoughts, resembled dictation. This sounds portentous, not to say boring; indeed, it was at times embarrassing. But — and this made all the difference — he was fascinating. The spell he exercised by his style was exercised in his conversation. Phrases of abstruse exaggerated drollery or of the last intellectual elegance flowered in it profusely. At first you might feel rather conscience-stricken for having set in motion, perhaps by a casual question, such tremendous mental — machinery. It seemed really too bad to have put him to such trouble, made him work and weigh his words like that; and if, through the detestable habit of talking about anything rather than be silent, you had started a topic in which you were not interested, you might be well punished. There was something at once so painstaking, serious and majestical in the procedure of his mind that you shrank from diverting it, and thus the whole of your little precious time with him might be wasted. This often happened in my case during our fifteen years’ acquaintance, and I still regret those bungled opportunities.


Precious Time Casual Question Great Head Double Consciousness Ancient Rich 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1984

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  • Desmond MacCarthy

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