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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Worst Titles of Henry James

Posted by Adam Roberts on 03/27/08 at 06:58 AM

James? Fine writer.  His titles? Classics, all: Portrait of a LadyWhat Maisie Knew. The Princess Casamassamissima.  Models of the titler’s art, every last one.

All?  By way of providing balance, here is a list of The Valve’s nominations for the five worst Jamesian titles, in reverse order:

5. ‘The Jolly Corner’ (1908).  The upbeat, corner-equivalent of The Naughty Step.
4.  English Hours (1905).  Trades on a hoary old misunderstanding: the days when English hours had two hundred and forty minutes are long gone.  Nowadays English hours are no different to any other nation’s hours.
3. A Little Tour in France.  You Know.  For Kids. (1884)
2. The Reverberator.  Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. (1888)

And the undisputed winner:

1. Crapy Cornelia (1910).  She is called Cornelia; she wears a crappy hat.  Indeed, she is a crappy individual.  Don’t you want to read her story?  No?


"The Great Good Place” and “The Real Right Thing” make one of those couples who are worse together than apart.

By Ray Davis on 03/27/08 at 08:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"She didn’t look at him; she only, from under her frumpy, crapy, curiously exotic hat, and with her good little near-sighted insinuating glare, expressed to Mrs Worthingham, while she answered him, wonderful arch things, the overdone things of a shy woman.”

And people pick on PKD for his sentences?

Really, even aside from structure, this sentence is a monster.  What the heck is a “good little near-sighted insinuating glare”?

This is a good introduction to a great passive-aggressive word, though: crapy: adj, “resembling crepe” (1913 Webster).  I can hardly wait to use it.

By on 03/27/08 at 09:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"The Princess Casamassamissima”?  I mussust have mississed that one.

By Dave Maier on 03/27/08 at 11:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“The Princess Casamassamissima”?

Well-spotted: I meant, of course, “The Princess Cassamassassamassamissima”.

By Adam Roberts on 03/27/08 at 12:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Airtight Granny”?

no wait… that was a porn film.

By Jonathan M on 03/27/08 at 12:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You must have been thinking of “Guy Domville”.

By nnyhav on 03/27/08 at 02:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, a “good little near-sighted insinuating glare” is the verbal version of exactly what it describes.  It performs its referent.  It is itself a good little near-sighted insinuating glare.  The glare is created by the phrase’s opening salvo of clipped syllables and the way it opens up rhythmically and aurally, with “near-sighted insinuating.” The fun of “good little” rubbed up against “insinuating glare” is great too.

By on 03/27/08 at 05:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s a mess, Luther.  Piling up contradictory adjectives into a multiple-car collision doesn’t perform an insinuating glare.  I suspect that one or more of those words had different connotations back in 1910, but even so, trying to match that string of words to a mental image of what she’s actually supposed to be doing is a mess.  And the free indirect, if that’s what it is, that’s mixed in is just tiresome.

By on 03/27/08 at 08:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yeah, Rich, it doesn’t perform an insinuating glare.  It performs a good little near-sighted insinuating glare, which James is explicitly telling us is different than an insinuating glare.  She’s shy, she’s overdoing things, she’s trying to be socially savvy, and she’s trying to insinuate something without someone else knowing.  By itself, an insinuating glare would be pretty intense stuff.  But James is telling us it’s not a particularly graceful or subtle insinuation.  Good and little diminish the affect.  It’s the same as “shooting” someone a glare—but good and little show us how obvious the gesture is.  That James leads with them is like dampening a piano chord. 

The look is awkward; the woman is awkward; the phrase is awkward. 

But I’m not going to continue this argument beyond this post.  I’m tired of it already.

By on 03/27/08 at 08:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

One of the problems I have with James, and to some extent, most writers before the Modern period, was their insistence in using the whole of the English language in each and every novel. One word would never suffice where twenty could be used, in order to show off that indeed, the author did own a thesaurus and it was sitting right there on his writing table. Hence the existence of such turns of phrase as, “good little near-sighted insinuating glare”. any sane editor today would see that and say, “No, Henry. Just no.”

By Keith on 03/28/08 at 02:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I will not argue with Rich, but I will argue with Keith.  To say: Keith, you’re completely wrong.

The problem with too much writing today is the fact that editors and creative writing professors have a bunch of pseudo-Hemingwayan rules of prose writing (and lyric poetry writing, itself a subset of prose writing these days): no adjectives or adverbs; cut cut cut; only concrete words; short sentences; everyday subjects.  It’s a retarded empiricism.

Compare that to Sherwood Anderson or Faulkner or Fitzgerald, writers for whom thick description, complex abstraction, and rich syntax are the key ingredients.  There’s more to writing than “The Killers.” (And it doesn’t really take a thesaurus to write “good little near-sighted insinuating glare.")

Can you imagine some New York punk editing Shakspeare?  “Billy, my mensch, you simply must get rid of all these words you’re stealing from Latin.  And why do these characters talk to themselves?  And why don’t your sentences start with their subjects?  Why is there all this gunk between the nouns and verbs?  Remember that in today’s literature, everybody must talk like an emotionally stunted chipmunk.  Will, look at this new story we’re about to publish.  Here’s drama:

‘Our marriage.’
‘You’re a bastard.’
‘Look at the sky.’

BTW: You cannot remove a single word from James’s phrase without changing its meaning.  The pleasure of reading James is the pleasure of reading a word-hungry man painstakingly constructing a world—constructing so well that it often seems like he’s actually observing a world.

By on 03/28/08 at 05:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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