Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Inspired By Literature: Henry James

Often regarded as the "great American novelist" Henry James has left an indelible mark on the history of American literature. James's novel Portrait of a Lady is widely regarded as his chef d'oeuvre, yet this author is best known for a shorter story: the bone chilling The Turn of the Screw. I'm featuring James during the fall due to his remarkable ability to weave immensely powerful tales of the supernatural without going over the top. While I love a good ghost story, I've always felt that there is a line some authors cross that makes an otherwise chilling tale a bit campy and over done.

Within a few words I always find myself lost in anything written by Henry James which is why The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers are among my all time favorites. I've chosen relatively simple items to pair with the work of James given his ability to do so much with so little. From short stories with the impact of an 800 page novel, to a few words woven together so artfully they leave you reeling James was truly a master at making the most of his craft. 

(Left to right): Bobbi Brown Day to Night: Warm shadow palette, Fresh Supernova Mascara, MAC Raven Kohl Power Pencil

Though the cover below is not actually a Henry James novel, it embodies the general sensation often created in his works. The "modern" 19th century is often anchored or pulled back by the shadows of the past always looming in the distance. Shades of gray undeniably represent these shadows, and though I don't have a good reason for the deep red lips ... they just work within the context. (Note: that sort of logic would NEVER have worked in one of the many lengthy essays I penned for my English degree, so I suppose I'm reveling in the fact that I make the rules here.)

(From top left): Chanel Le Vernis in Graphite, Particulière, Frenzy, Giorgio Armani Plum 609, MAC Media

I'm in the midst of rereading The Aspern Papers (my favorite, if you haven't read it I highly recommend that you do) and the book below, a collection of short ghost stories. Many of these stories are told from the perspective of a more mature narrator reflecting on supernatural experiences of their youth hence the faded, muted shades. 

(Clockwise from left): Le Métier de Beauté Corinthian, Number 17 Blusher First Kiss, Nude, MAC Patisserie, Dior Incognito

I must admit to you that I have yet to read Portrait of a Lady, but the novel is on the syllabus I've created to keep me reading regularly this fall. I'm eager to dive into this work given the theme that James may or may not have intended for his short stories. Many early American works of literature exist in the shadow of their cousins penned in England. There existed for some time a sort of inferiority complex that created a bit of a bizarre atmosphere in the American literary world (some might argue that this is still taking place, but I believe the attitudes dissipated some time during the mid to late 19th century). Nevertheless, during a time when this thought process was still relatively pervasive James had a way of writing about the "new world" that gave it the same feeling of age, local color and depth of character attributed to environs mentioned in novels and stories on the other side of the ocean. 

Do you have any favorite Henry James novels or short stories? What products do you attribute to the works of Henry James?