Henry James Week: Readings of The Novels

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Catalogue of Librivox recordings of Henry James' Novels

The Librivox initiative to produce recordings of classic novels in the public domain represents a considerable effort of will, both by those in charge of the initiative, as well as the legion of volunteer readers who have given up their time and energy to record novels in their entirety and present them in podcast form.  Currently there are thirty-eight of James' works available for download, ranging from well-known works such as The Turn of the Screw and The Bostonians to nonfictional works like The Art of Fiction and A Small Boy and Others.
Given that the works are read by volunteers rather than professional performers, the quality of these podcasts varies greatly.  I very much liked Nikolle Doolin's rendition of The Turn of the Screw, and "Skoval's" Sacred Fount: both readers demonstrate a sensitivity to the text that is often difficult for other readers to find.  Experience of reading James aloud in public has taught me that every subordinate clause in a sentence matters; they are not simply there to qualify the phrases contained in the main clause.  Each subordinate clause shows how the narrators (as well as the characters) expend considerable mental energy in trying to make sense of the world around them.  Sometimes they succeed; on many other occasions they fail; and can only come up with a partial - and mostly inaccurate - evaluation.  This is the particular quality of James' writing: we are given an insight into the ways in which human minds work, a process which is inevitably complex and places considerable demands on his readers.  Anyone entrusted with the responsibility of speaking his words aloud, has to approach each sentence individually, read it carefully, and subsequently work out the stress-patterns - a process that can be long and onerous.
The fact that some Librivox readers do not accomplish this task successfully is certainly a shame, but nonetheless attests to the particular qualities of the Jamesian text; sometimes it does not yield its secrets easily.