‘The Private Life’ by Henry James

NO ONE DOES A SPECTRAL PRESENCE LIKE HENRY JAMES! There are such a posse of good ones to choose from, but this story fascinates me. A group of creative friends are holidaying in Switzerland together: “We talked of London, face to face with a great bristling, primeval glacier”. The social life of the party is dominated by Clarence “Clare” Vawdrey, an excellent raconteur. However, does he find the time to actually write anything, the group wonders? (It’s like the ultimate short story for anyone who thinks their favourite writer spends too much time on social media.) Then, our narrator has a chance encounter in a corridor, which makes him suspect that Vawdrey’s ‘true’ self may have unsuspected hidden skills. Funny, slightly spooky, and enlightening about the weird ambivalence of the creative life. Henry James emoji. There is one right?

First published in The Atlantic Monthly, April 1892. Collected in the Everyman Collected Stories Vol 2. Available online here

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