tutorial, commentary, study resources, and web links
The Death of the Lion (1894) is a short story featuring a variation on the theme of the disparity between a writer and his work, and the manner in which he is percived by the public and his admirers. It was written at the same time as The Coxon Fund and anticipates The Figure in the Carpet by only two years. It takes a very satirical view of the lack of aesthetic appreciation in fashionable society, and possibly for that reason has always been a popular and much-anthologised work.
The Death of the Lion
The Death of the Lion – critical commentary
The most interesting thing about this story is that it has all the ingredients of a minor tragedy – but doesn’t seem to be one. After all, in the first part of the narrative Paraday is given public recognition as a novelist of distinction and has the beginnings of what appears to be a great new work. Yet he is distracted from his vocation, sucked into a mindless fashionable society, and he dies with his work unappreciated and mistreated. James certainly had this critical perspective in mind in his notebook entries when planning the story:
the ravenous autograph-hunters, lion-hunters, exploiters of publicity, in whose number one gets the impression that a person knowing and loving the thing itself, the work, is simply never to be found…they kill him with the very fury of their selfish exploitation, and then not really have an idea of what they have killed him for
Yet this serious senario is at odds with the light-hearted satire of journalists, editors, and literary enthusiasts which pervades the rest of the story. Mr Morrow is a shallow opportunist who thinks a writer’s innermost philosophy can be guaged by looking at his writing table; the popular novelist Guy Walshingham turns out to be a young girl called Miss Collop; and another literary celebrity using the pen name Dora Forbes is ‘florid and bald; he had a big red moustache and wore showy knickerbockers’. The centre of the country house party which is celebrating Paraday is dominated by the Princess, who ‘had been told everything in the world and has never perceived anything’.
Moreover, Paraday is complicit in his own decline. He enters willingly into Mrs Wimbush’s social milieu, and actually hands over the sole manuscript of his yet-unfinished novel for others to pass round – and eventually lose. The great artist who the public in general do not appreciate or understand is a common enough figure in James’s work, but The Death of the Lion is ambiguous in its attitude to the topic.
We take it at the end of the story that the narrator will wait in vain for the recovery of any lost manuscript, but the story ends on a positive note since he has been united in marriage with Miss Hurter, his fellow Paraday suporter. Thus the narrative seems to be pointing in two different directions at one and the same time.
The Death of the Lion – study resources
The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK
The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US
Complete Stories 1892—1898 – Library of America – Amazon UK
Complete Stories 1892—1898 – Library of America – Amazon US
The Death of the Lion – Oxford Classics edition – Amazon UK
The Death of the Lion – Oxford Classics edition – Amazon US
The Death of the Lion – Kindle eBook edition
The Death of the Lion – eBook formats at Project Gutenberg
The Death of the Lion – audio book at LibriVox
The Complete Tales (Vol 9) – Paperback edition – Amazon UK
Selected Tales – Penguin Classics edition – Amazon UK
The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK
Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links
Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources
The Death of the Lion – plot summary
An un-named narrator is working as a journalist on a weekly magazine. He proposes to the editor that he should write an article on Neil Paraday, a distinguished novelist. Despite the editor’s reservations, he visits the novelist, writes the article, and is invited to stay at the author’s home. Paraday lets him see the manuscript of an unfinished novel. The editor rejects the article, the narrator re-writes it, and it is published elsewhere but ignored.
Meanwhile, another London newspaper, The Empire publishes a leading article praising Paraday. This brings an opportunist journalist, Mr Morrow, to visit Paraday in the hope of writing a personal profile. The narrator protects the novelist from this intrusion, but Morrow writes an article anyway, and Paraday becomes increasingly famous in society.
A young American woman Miss Hurter is a Paraday enthusiast and autograph hunter. When she turns up in the hope of meeting him, the narrator persuades her that the greatest homage she can render him is not to meet him, but to leave him alone to get on with his work.
Despite the narrator’s protective efforts, Paraday is embraced by fashionable society and is distracted from his work by its demands on his time. At a country house gathering, the guests read his latest novel as if it were a magazine, and the manuscript of his unfinished novel is lost.
Paraday becomes seriously ill whilst he is staying there, and fashionable novelists arrive as replacements to read their less worthy work for the entertainment of guests. Eventually the guests are sent home, and Paraday dies, leaving the narrator to keep alive reverence for his critical reputation, which he does with Miss Hurter, who he has meanwhile married.
|the un-named narrator – a journalist
|weekly journal editor
|the journal’s previous editor and owner
|a distinguished novelist, separated from his wife
|an opportunistic journalist
|Mrs Weeks Wimbush
|society lady, wife of a brewer
|Miss Fanny Hurter
|a young American Paraday enthusiast and autograph hunter
|her sister, who lives in Paris
|novelist, author of Obsessions – real name Miss Collop
|novelist, author of The Other Way Round – a man
|Mrs Winbush’s country house
|polyglot European socialite
|Lady Augusta Minch
|socialite who lends Paraday’s manuscript
|socialite who loses Paraday’s manuscript
Henry James’s study
Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.
F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.
Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.
Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.
Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.
Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999
F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.
Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.
Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.
Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.
Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.
J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.
Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.
Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.
Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976
Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.
Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.
Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009
John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.
Other works by Henry James
The Aspern Papers (1888) is a psychological drama set in Venice which centres on the tussle for control of a great writer’s correspondence. An elderly lady, ex-lover of the writer, seeks a husband for her daughter. But the potential purchaser of the papers is a dedicated bachelor. Money is also at stake – but of course not discussed overtly. There is a refined battle of wills between them. Who will win in the end? As usual, James keeps the reader guessing. The novella is a masterpiece of subtle narration, with an ironic twist in its outcome. This collection of stories also includes three of his accomplished long short stories – The Private Life, The Middle Years, and The Death of the Lion.
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The Spoils of Poynton (1896) is a short novel which centres on the contents of a country house, and the question of who is the most desirable person to inherit it via marriage. The owner Mrs Gereth is being forced to leave her home to make way for her son and his greedy and uncultured fiancee. Mrs Gereth develops a subtle plan to take as many of the house’s priceless furnishings with her as possible. But things do not go quite according to plan. There are some very witty social ironies, and a contest of wills which matches nouveau-riche greed against high principles. There’s also a spectacular finale in which nobody wins out.
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Daisy Miller (1879) is a key story from James’s early phase in which a spirited young American woman travels to Europe with her wealthy but commonplace mother. Daisy’s innocence and her audacity challenge social conventions, and she seems to be compromising her reputation by her independent behaviour. But when she later dies in Rome the reader is invited to see the outcome as a powerful sense of a great lost potential. This novella is a great study in understatement and symbolic power.
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Henry James – web links
Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.
The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at Amazon.co.uk. The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.
The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.
A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.
The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.
Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.
Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.
The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.
The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.
Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.
© Roy Johnson 2012
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