Henry James Week: A Taste for the Baroque

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Download A Taste for the Baroque from BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 29 March 2013
As a postscript to the Henry James week of reviews, I managed to catch a programme in Radio 3's excellent series The Essay, in which writers, authors, critics and others deliver talks on a variety of arts-related subjects.
This was the fifth talk in a series A Taste for the Baroque, produced to celebrate Radio 3's Baroque Spring season, in which writer Tessa Hadley focused her attention on Jamesian sentences with particular reference to The Golden Bowl.  She first encountered the novel as a teenager and, while being unable to grasp the importance of every word within the sentence, she nonetheless became hypnotized by James' prose.  It was as torturous as the situations he describes; the Prince, Maggie and Charlotte were involved in a complicated love-triangle, prompting James to describe their feelings in an equally complicated manner.  She read out an example of one such sentence, highlighting James' very precise use of language, sometimes distinguished by an absence rather than a proliferation of commas.  While some proof-readers might yearn to break up the sentences with further punctuation, Hadley argued with some justification that James knew what he was doing, as he tried as far as possible to replicate the workings of the human mind in prose form.
In keeping with the theme of the week, Hadley's main point was straightforward; that James consciously wrote in a baroque, ornate style.  There was no simplified "message," lurking beneath the prose; the message was part of the style.  Human beings have an innate capacity to elaborate on events by means of the imagination; James tried to emphasize that point through his writing.  It is up to his readers to sensitize themselves to the nuances of his prose.  If they succeed, then they are hooked.  The producer of this inspiring talk was Tim Dee.