Monday, January 2, 2012

"An English New Year" by Henry James

"It will hardly be pretended this year that the English Christmas has been a merry one, or that the New Year has the promise of being particularly happy. The winter is proving very cold and vicious - as if Nature herself were loath to be left out  of the general conspiracy against the comfort and self-complacency of man."

More of a letter or essay, Henry James wrote "An English New Year" during the economically unstable 1870's. He was 35 years old, living in England, and the piece was published in The Nation on January 12, 1879. It later appeared in his Collected Travel Writings: Great Britain and America.

James talks of the general gloom prevalent throughout the country. As London is mired in fog and snow (described in in prose reminiscent of  Dickens), he hopes to recover his 'nervous balance' with a brief escape to the country.

"Of all the great things that the English have invented and made part of the credit of the national character, the most perfect, the most characteristic, the one they have mastered most completely in all its details, so that it has become a compendious illustration of their social genius and their manners, is the well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country-house."

James is invited to accompany the lady of the house on a charitable holiday visit to a workhouse where she is to distribute toys to the children. The dispatch ends abruptly as he is reminded of Oliver Twist.

"An English New Year" is this week's Library of America Story of the Week and includes drawings by Joseph Pennell. You may read it here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.


  1. A story about "getting away from it all"? I guess we've all been there. I still can't help but feel bad for the guy, when at New Year's the winter was really just in its infancy. Imagine how down he'd be if he'd waited for March break?

  2. I saw this story on the Library of America site this week. After the bustle of the holidays, it is nice to think about taking a vacation from our vacation! Thanks for sharing. I read "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut.

  3. Oh, I love Henry, especially when he's crabby.

  4. I keep on trying to read James and I keep on struggling, but this sounds like a good way for me to give him another go.

  5. I like reading stories on your blog that I just wouldn't find any where else!

  6. I subscribe to the story of the week, too. Isn't it a great, great thing! I haven't read them all but I love the resource.

  7. John - Poor Henry, lol! We've been lucky with less than a foot of snow so far this winter... last year we'd had 80" at this point!

    Julie - This vacation definitely had a Dickensian feel to it. I do enjoy James' writing!

    Audrey - Me, too! I hope to spend more time with Henry this year. Washington Square is next on my list.

    JaneGS - This is very short and might be a good starting point. His early novels are much more accessible. I really liked Daisy Miller and loved Portrait of a Lady. Haven't attempted his later work... it scares me!

    Staci - Thanks so much. Short stories are an easy way for me to try new authors or revisit old favorites.

    Nan - I love the Story of the Week. Even if I don't always read them right away, it's nice to know they are waiting for me.

    Kathleen - Short and sweet... unusual for James, I think ;-)

  8. Thanks for the great review, even if the story doesn't sound too upbeat! I'm so glad I read this post, because I've never heard of the Story of the Week! What a great idea. I loved The Art of the Novella Challenge this summer, just because it was so satisfying to complete an entire work quickly. I think I'll need to take a look!

  9. Col - Library of America's Story of the Week delivers a story to your inbox every Sunday morning. It reminds me to read a short story... even if it isn't the one they've selected.

  10. I received this story too but haven't read it yet. I just reviewed a different short story from Library of America.


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