I was sitting on the uptown express on what used to be called the Lexington Avenue Line, and now has some alien number assigned to it by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, when a great truth (you get a lot for your 90 cents on the subway) was revealed to me. The truth came in a remark made by Heinrich von Kleist: 'One could divide people into two classes, those who understand themselves by metaphor, and those who understand themselves by formula. Those who understand themselves by both are too few to make up a class.' Suddenly I understood not only what I was doing there and why, but also what I had been doing for years. I belonged, of course, to the metaphor people and Kleist had made me see that mine was Henry James's 'The Jolly Corner'. This is the story of Spencer Brydon, in his mid-fifties, who has spent 33 years abroad enjoying 'the freedom of a wanderer, overlaid by pleasure, by infidelity', running away from 'the ugly things of his faraway youth'. The death of his two brothers had left him heir of two New York properties and he has come 'home' to attend to them, '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.'
LRB 17 May 1984 | PDF Download