Posted in Short Stories

Henry James: The Middle Years

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 13

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oxford short stories

“A second chance – that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

In Henry James short story “The Middle Years”, Dencombe’s most recent novel is titled The Middle Years. He is convalescing at a seaside town when he encounters Dr. Hugh who happens to be reading – you guessed it – Dencombe’s novel The Middle Years. Initially, Dr. Hugh doesn’t realize who Dencombe is and unknowingly sings the praises of his new acquaintance. When he eventually realizes to whom he has been talking, he becomes quite the “fan boy” by today’s standards.

I personally relate to Dr. Hugh as most of the time I find myself on the appreciation side of art; however, James’ story delves more into Dencombe as an artist. Dencombe walks a fine line between tragedy and triumph as he seems truly grateful for Dr. Hugh’s admiration which gives Dencombe some sort of affirmation. At the same time, a great weight hangs on Dencombe as he wonders if he will actually ever “make it” as an artist. In trying to measure his achievement, Dencombe continues to fall short – at least in his own eyes.

This is a great story from an author I admit that I usually stay away from. I’ve read “The Turn of the Screw” which I liked and “Daisy Miller” which I didn’t care for. I picked this story simply because I want to complete the stories in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (edited by Joyce Carol Oates). I’m so glad I didn’t skip over it. Two James’s have taken the top two spots for my favorites so far in 2019 (Last week was an M. R. James story).  I know we’re only three months in to 2019 so there’s a lot of room for change, but still, if you haven’t read “The Middle Years” go find it and read it! I read it when I selected the Ace of Clubs for Week 13 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

What has your experience been with Henry James?

5 thoughts on “Henry James: The Middle Years

  1. Hi Dale,
    I am quite fond of this story, and I was disappointed to find that I’ve never blogged about it myself, even though it was one of my stories in my first Deal Me In back in 2011. Anyhoo, I generally “fear” HJ as well, but this story was great! I think the first time I read it (also because I own the same JCO anthology you have) was when I had started to think of myself for the first time as “middle aged” (fortunately I got over that!) Hahaha.
    -Jay

    P.S: (off topic) Great Baseball Story Alert! I read one the other day from the 2016 O. Henry prize winners anthology, called “Bonus Baby” by Joe Donnelly. You’ll have to find that one if you haven’t read it already. Basically a pitcher’s perspective view of the experience of maybe pitching a no hitter. Great stuff! I was thinking of you the whole time I read it? 🙂

    1. Even after this story, I’m hesitant to read anything else by HJ, but this story was great so I need to at least try more of his work.

      Thanks for the baseball story alert! Because of opening day I wanted to find a baseball story to post about. I am going to seek out this one and read it!

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