Friday, January 20, 2017

Roderick Hudson

Roderick Hudson. Henry James. 1875. 398 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Rowland Mallet had made his arrangements to sail for Europe on the first of September, and having in the interval a fortnight to spare, he determined to spend it with his cousin Cecilia, the widow of a nephew of his father. He was urged by the reflection that an affectionate farewell might help to exonerate him from the charge of neglect frequently preferred by this lady.

Premise/plot: Rowland Mallet is introduced to Roderick Hudson by his cousin Cecelia. Hudson is a sculptor from small town America. He doesn't have big dreams of being a GENIUS, he's just your ordinary guy who sculpts now and then. Mallet sees one of his pieces, and he gets super-super excited. Mallet believes--and backs up his belief with cash and the promise of more cash and even more cash--that Roderick Hudson should go to Rome, to Europe, and be SOMEBODY. Mallet meets Roderick's mother and the young woman who is her companion, Mary Garland. The two women have their doubts. Is this really what is best for Roderick? By the time the two (Roderick and Rowland) are ready to leave for Rome, Rowland is in love with Mary. The problem? Roderick announces that the two are ENGAGED essentially around the same time that Rowland realizes that he is in love with her. To be fair, Roderick has known Mary Garland for quite a while, and, Rowland has just met her. But still.

Most of the book concerns Rowland and Roderick's adventures in Europe. How does the trip change Roderick? Are the changes for the better? Does Rowland ever have any regrets or doubts? What is European society like? Can two people--reliant on one another, in obligation to one another--really be friends?

Two women feature largely into this one. Mary Garland, whom we first meet in Massachusetts, and Christina Light, whom we first meet in Italy. Though engaged to Mary, Roderick is constant...never. Christina Light is Roderick's "love" interest. And Christina Light is something special. Miss Light has essentially spent her whole life being trained--groomed--to make a wealthy match of it. She's valuable because she's beautiful. There are moments of sincere conversation when she confesses she hates the way things are, she wishes that she had the ability to choose her own path, follow her heart. Readers rarely catch exchanges of Roderick and Christina in conversation, but there are many heart-to-heart encounters with Rowland. Readers get to know Christina because of Rowland's dealings with her, her mother, etc.

My thoughts: Is Roderick capable of LOVE? That's a simple enough question, I suppose. I think the answer is no. He loves himself much too much. His EGO is extraordinary and much larger than his talent, in my opinion. His monologues are ridiculous!!!

Is Roderick mentally ill? That's a more complex question, I know. I am tempted to say DEFINITELY. Does being mentally ill excuse him in any way for his behavior--for the way he treats people, for his inability to love, to be kind, to be polite? Roderick in conversation could be so INFURIATING. I mean he was a jerk essentially. I don't think you can just blame mental illness and say you're not all...for what you say or do. (You can perhaps have more compassion and concern for those who hurt you.)

Was the ending inevitable? I definitely saw it coming. I didn't know which country perhaps, but, I knew that Roderick would...well...exit dramatically.

I definitely found this an engaging and compelling read. I didn't necessarily LOVE all the characters, obviously. Rowland was a bit blind at regards to his relationships with other characters. I don't know why he loved Roderick so unconditionally. I didn't get the idea that Rowland LIKED Roderick personally--I mean as a person. But he LOVED Roderick's artistic genius. I think Rowland also loved the idea of being the one who discovered him. I think every time Roderick's work was praised, he could go, I discovered him! I brought him to Rome! I liked Rowland best when he was talking with Christina Light and with Mary Garland. So between Rowland and Roderick, I preferred Rowland. It would be tougher to have a favorite between the two women. I really liked both. Christina is perhaps the more developed character. Mary Garland is Rowland's ideal, and, as such, I'm not sure we're seeing all there is to see. Whereas with Christina, she's presented as very, very human.

Favorite quotes:
True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out — you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.
It's rather a hard fate, to live like a saint and to pass for a sinner!
There are worse fates in the world than being loved too well.
I have an indigestion of impressions; I must work them off before I go in for any more.
Success is only passionate effort.
The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for, and that all one’s ideas are like the Irish people at home who live in the different corners of a room, and take boarders. 
I fancy it is our peculiar good luck that we don’t see the limits of our minds,” said Rowland.
It was the artist’s opinion that there is no essential difference between beauty and ugliness; that they overlap and intermingle in a quite inextricable manner; that there is no saying where one begins and the other ends; that hideousness grimaces at you suddenly from out of the very bosom of loveliness, and beauty blooms before your eyes in the lap of vileness; that it is a waste of wit to nurse metaphysical distinctions, and a sadly meagre entertainment to caress imaginary lines; that the thing to aim at is the expressive, and the way to reach it is by ingenuity; that for this purpose everything may serve, and that a consummate work is a sort of hotch-potch of the pure and the impure, the graceful and the grotesque.
There is nothing like matrimony for curing old-maidishness.
There are two kinds of women — you ought to know it by this time — the safe and the unsafe. Miss Light, if I am not mistaken, is one of the unsafe.
One is never so good, I suppose, but that one can improve a little. 
I am tired to death of myself; I would give all I possess to get out of myself; but somehow, at the end, I find myself so vastly more interesting than nine tenths of the people I meet. If a person wished to do me a favor I would say to him, ‘I beg you, with tears in my eyes, to interest me. Be strong, be positive, be imperious, if you will; only be something, — something that, in looking at, I can forget my detestable self!’ Perhaps that is nonsense too. If it is, I can’t help it. I can only apologize for the nonsense I know to be such and that I talk — oh, for more reasons than I can tell you! I wonder whether, if I were to try, you would understand me.
But if you suffer them to live, let them live on their own terms and according to their own inexorable needs!
Rowland listened to this outbreak, as he often had occasion to listen to Roderick’s heated monologues, with a number of mental restrictions. Both in gravity and in gaiety he said more than he meant, and you did him simple justice if you privately concluded that neither the glow of purpose nor the chill of despair was of so intense a character as his florid diction implied.
The moods of an artist, his exaltations and depressions, Rowland had often said to himself, were like the pen-flourishes a writing-master makes in the air when he begins to set his copy. He may bespatter you with ink, he may hit you in the eye, but he writes a magnificent hand.
There are such things as necessary follies. 
Don’t mind the pain, and it will cease to trouble you. Enjoy, enjoy; it is your duty.
One is in for it in one way or another, and one might as well do it with a good grace as with a bad! Since one can’t escape life, it is better to take it by the hand.
We are made, I suppose, both to suffer and to enjoy. As you say, it's a mixture. Just now and here, it seems a peculiarly strange one. But we must take things in turn.
For one hour of what I have been, I would give up anything I may be!
Never mind what you have been; be something better!
One man puts his selfishness into one thing, and one into another.
When one is looking for symptoms one easily finds them.
“All that ‘s very easy to say,” Roderick went on; “but you must remember that there are such things as nerves, and senses, and imagination, and a restless demon within that may sleep sometimes for a day, or for six months, but that sooner or later wakes up and thumps at your ribs till you listen to him! If you can’t understand it, take it on trust, and let a poor imaginative devil live his life as he can!”
“I believe there is such a thing as being too reasonable. But when once the habit is formed, what is one to do?” 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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