Friday, December 30


The Protheros were part-time neighbors of Henry James in Rye, Sussex, and Mrs. Bryan was their housekeeper.

Dear Mrs. George!

Just as black despair was seizing us -- that is 10 minutes ago -- the Devotee to the interests of the Idol (though we won't say who the Idol in this case is) arrived with an "I hope you don't mind me coming" & a nice little fat-faced boy. I said "Oh dear no, Mrs. Bryan: always so glad to talk with you about them" & then she broke it that she had just had a postcard & that they would be with us tomorrow. You could have knocked me down with a feather -- the revulsion was so violent. For you see we had, the others of us, met of late in such at last almost deathly tension. It had been, it had become, more & more this kind of thing.

"Have you heard --?["]
"Oh yes -- one 'hears': that's the bitterness of it. She is clearly indisposed --"
"Indisposed? Don't tell me!"
"Indisposed, I mean" -- this very gravely indeed -- ["] to come."
Oh, that? Don't call it indisposed. Call it firmly resolved, call it fundamentally determined."
"Well -- since you go straight to the terrible truth of it -- there we are. But she professes --!"
"Oh, she dresses it with ribbons & gardens: you know her enchanting way -- !"
"Ah yes, her enchanting way is the bitterness of it. She does deck it out -- !"
"As with streamers & a band of music! But all the while -- "
"Yes -- but don't too awfully say it -- !"
I must -- for we must face the worst! She has cooled."
"Aïe!" -- as of a nerve in anguish. "Not cooled, put it -- only just a little (in this weather) lowered her temperature."
"Oh, weather me no weather! She has frozen!"
"Let us then melt her!"
"We can't -- all our tears won't. It's the icy smile."
"yes, that smile! It muddles, but it means -- "
"It 'means' -- ?" (hanging on one's lips.)
"That she will never come again."
"Aïïee!" -- the shriek of ten thousand wincing nerves -- a piercing wail, a heavy fall & silence; from my gloomy gaze on the prostrate presence of which imagine the revulsion, as I say, of Mrs. Bryan's breathless approach to yours in ecstasy

Henry James

-- Henry James Letter to Mrs. George Walter Prothero 18 October 1907