Oh Henry!

Better ideas.
Dec. 19 1996 3:30 AM

Oh Henry!

What Henry James didn't do with Oliver Wendell Holmes (or anyone else).

(Continued from Page 1)

Writing to his sister Alice, James characterized Zhukovski as "the same impracticable and indeed ridiculous mixture of Nihilism and bric-à-brac as before." He adds that Zhukovski always needs to be sheltered by a strong figure: "First he was under Turgenev, then the Princess Urusov, whom he now detests and who despises him, then under H.J. Jr. (!!), then under that of a certain disagreeable Onegin (the original of Turgenev's Nazhdanov, in Virgin Soil) now under Wagner, and apparently in the near future that of Madame Wagner." Novick bypasses these letters; he avoids looking at facts that might spoil his case. He does allude to the James remark about Zhukovski's bric-a-brac, but he seems to misunderstand its irony. He claims that James was "cautious" about this visit because of crime and disease in the Naples area--all this, says Novick, is "out of keeping with the collection of bric-à-brac with which Zhukovski was surrounded." James may indeed have been referring to the villa's human bric-a-brac.

Advertisement

In a letter written from Sorrento to Grace Norton in Cambridge, he described a group of English persons he visited in Frascati after leaving Posilipo. They were of an "admirable, honest, reasonable, wholesome English nature," in sharp contrast to the "fantastic immorality and aesthetics of the circle I had left at Naples."

So Novick is deprived of the happy romance he wanted to chronicle at Posilipo. He consoles himself by a detailed account of Zhukovski's adoption into Bayreuth, his painting the sets for Parsifal and being considered a kind of son by the Wagners. Novick seems to be trying to walk down two streets at once--the street of the refinements of literary biography and the more rigid roadway of the prosecutorial argument. He attempts to turn certain of his fancies into fact--but his data is simply too vague for him to get away with it.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They’re just not ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 16 2014 4:08 PM More Than Scottish Pride Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.