The Ambassadors is arguably the greatest of Henry James’ late works, and his own favourite of his novels. In it, Lambert Strether is sent by his wealthy fiancée to Paris to rescue her son from what is presumed to be the clutches of a gold-digging temptress. When he arrives, he discovers Chad needs very little rescuing, and far from being a den of iniquity, Paris – and the people he meets – is sophisticated, cultured and charming.
I met with Sarah Churchwell to talk about Henry James,her introduction to the new Everymans Library edition of the novel, Americans in Paris, and why reading Henry James is infinitely less daunting than one might suppose.
The Ambassadors, Henry James. With an introduction by Sarah Churchwell. Everymans Library
Dorothy Richardson is one of modernism’s unsung heroes: a pioneer of Stream of Consciousness, her experimental approach to writing was driven by desire to express a specifically female experience. This impressed Virginia Woolf, who, in 1923, wrote that Richardson ‘has invented, or if she has not invented, developed and applied to her own uses, a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender‘. Her greatest literary achievement is a sequence of thirteen novels, Pilgrimage, of which the first, Pointed Roofs – the first complete stream of consciousness novel in English – was published in 1915.
In 1907 she began a relationship with H.G.Wells, and it’s this period in her life that Louisa Treger chronicles in her novel, The Lodger. Wells was a notorious if rather unlikely philanderer – in addition to Richardson, his literary lovers include Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn, Violet Hunt (on whom Ford Madox Ford modelled Sylvia Tietjens in Parade’s End), and Elizabeth Von Arnim, and you can hear Louisa and I talk about H.G.Well’s surprising role in their literary lives, and about the strange genius of Dorothy Richardson in this podcast, either here on iTunes, or on soundcloud.
With less than a month to go to the US presidential election, Donald Trump is barely seven points behind Hilary Clinton in the polls. How do you explain the astonishing rise of an unlikely demagogue like Trump? How much does he reflect signs of a deeper division in America – one which has possibly been there since the country was founded ? And how much is he simply an anomaly, whose popularity will dissipate once the first woman president of the United States is in the White House?
This week I was joined at Mark’s Club by best-selling author Lionel Shriver, and writer, broadcaster and academic Professor Sarah Churchwell to talk about Trump’s America: why post-truth politics is stranger than fiction.
Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, the Mandibles, at once satirical and dystopian, maps an isolated America in 2029, on the cusp of a financial apocalypse as the world switches to a new global reserve currency, backed by a coalition of countries led by Russia’s ‘ruler for life’ Vladimir Putin. In 2029, there’s already a ‘great wall’ – built by the Mexicans to keep the US economic migrants out, and the Republican party has imploded, leaving the US as a single party democracy. Is this simply fiction, or the likely consequences of the current political crisis in the US?
Sarah Churchwell’s book, Careless People, is an exquisite analysis of the politics, economics and social context of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. As Sarah has said, ‘the America Trump inhabits is actually the one that Fitzgerald predicted in Gatsby, where we slip by unknowing degrees into accepting what once we would have deplored….Jay Gatsby is redeemed by his idealism: Donald Trump is what Gatsby would have been if he had no soul to corrupt in the first place.’The question is, how did we get here from there? And, if the 1920’s hold a mirror up to where we are now, what lessons can be drawn as we reflect on what the future can hold?
Listen to the podcast on iTunes here or below on soundcloud
Somehow it makes it all feel absurdly official, but The Books That Built me is now on iTunes –click here to find the podcasts