The Jolly Corner by Henry James


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Jolly Corner, by Henry James

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: The Jolly Corner

Author: Henry James

Release Date: May 13, 2005 [eBook #1190]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1918 Martin Secker edition by David Price, email

by Henry James


"Every one asks me what I 'think' of everything," said Spencer Brydon;
"and I make answer as I can--begging or dodging the question, putting
them off with any nonsense. It wouldn't matter to any of them really,"
he went on, "for, even were it possible to meet in that stand-and-deliver
way so silly a demand on so big a subject, my 'thoughts' would still be
almost altogether about something that concerns only myself." He was
talking to Miss Staverton, with whom for a couple of months now he had
availed himself of every possible occasion to talk; this disposition and
this resource, this comfort and support, as the situation in fact
presented itself, having promptly enough taken the first place in the
considerable array of rather unattenuated surprises attending his so
strangely belated return to America. Everything was somehow a surprise;
and that might be natural when one had so long and so consistently
neglected everything, taken pains to give surprises so much margin for
play. He had given them more than thirty years--thirty-three, to be
exact; and they now seemed to him to have organised their performance
quite on the scale of that licence. He had been twenty-three on leaving
New York--he was fifty-six to-day; unless indeed he were to reckon as he
had sometimes, since his repatriation, found himself feeling; in which
case he would have lived longer than is often allotted to man. It would
have taken a century, he repeatedly said to himself, and said also to
Alice Staverton, it would have taken a longer absence and a more averted
mind than those even of which he had been guilty, to pile up the
differences, the newnesses, the queernesses, above all the bignesses, for
the better or the worse, that at present assaulted his vision wherever he

The great fact all the while, however, had been the incalculability;
since he _had_ supposed himself, from decade to decade, to be allowing,
and in the most liberal and intelligent manner, for brilliancy of change.
He actually saw that he had allowed for nothing; he missed what he would
have been sure of finding, he found what he would never have imagined.
Proportions and values were upside-down; the ugly things he had expected,
the ugly things of his far-away youth, when he had too promptly waked up
to a sense of the ugly--these uncanny phenomena placed him rather, as it
happened, under the charm; whereas the "swagger" things, the modern, the
monstrous, the famous things, those he had more particularly, like
thousands of ingenuous enquirers every year, come over to see, were
exactly his sources of dismay. They were as so many set traps for
displeasure, above all for reaction, of which his restless tread was
constantly pressing the spring. It was interesting, doubtless, the whole
show, but it would have been too disconcerting hadn't a certain finer
truth saved the situation. He had distinctly not, in this steadier
light, come over _all_ for the monstrosities; he had come, not only in
the last analysis but quite on the face of the act, under an impulse with
which they had nothing to do. He had come--putting the thing
pompously--to look at his "property," which he had thus for a third of a
century not been within four thousand miles of; or, expressing it less
sordidly, he had yielded to the humour of seeing again his house on the
jolly corner, as he usually, and quite fondly, described it--the one in
which he had first seen the light, in which various members of his family
had lived and had died, in which the holidays of his overschooled boyhood
had been passed and the few social flowers of his chilled adolescence
gathered, and which, alienated then for so long a period, had, through
the successive deaths of his two brothers and the termination of old
arrangements, come wholly into his hands. He was the owner of another,
not quite so "good"--the jolly corner having been, from far back,
superlatively extended and consecrated; and the value of the pair
represented his main capital, with an income consisting, in these later
years, of their respective rents which (thanks precisely to their
original excellent type) had never been depressingly low. He could live
in "Europe," as he had been in the habit of living, on the product of
these flourishing New York leases, and all the better since, that of the
second structure, the mere number in its long row, having within a
twelvemonth fallen in, renovation at a high advance had proved
beautifully possible.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Mon 25th Jan 2021, 23:07