"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

July 28, 2013

The Best Stories of Anton Chekhov (3): Period of Maturity A (1888-1891)

From 1888 starts Chekhov's mature period as a story writer, inaugurated by "The Steppe." His stories would become more concentrated and the enormous production volume from the previous years would dwindle to a handful of stories per year - in these 17 years, until his death in 1904, Chekhov would only write 63 stories. In other words, he now is concentrating more on quality than on quantity - without sacrificing conciseness. As these stories contain many absolute masterworks, we will not make a selection anymore, but look at all the stories from Chekhov's mature and late periods. Here we start with the stories from 1888 to 1991.

In 1887, exhausted by overwork and ill health, Chekhov took a holiday by traveling to the Ukraine and his hometown Taganrog, a journey which would become the inspiration of his first masterwork, "The Steppe." In late 1887 Chekhov also wrote his first play, Ivanov.

The death of Chekhov's brother Nikolay from tuberculosis in 1889 inspired "A Dreary Story." Both this story and "The Party" draw on Chekhov's medical expertise, depicting psychosomatic illness or the psychological effects of physical distress.

Chekhov had been awarded the Pushkin Prize in 1888, and now in 1889 he was elected a member of the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature. But the failure of another play, The Wood Demon, in that same year inspired Chekhov to retreat from literature for a while and dedicate himself to prison reform, an issue in which he had become obsessively interested. In 1890, Chekhov surprised his family and friends by undertaking the arduous one-man expedition by train, horse-drawn carriage, and steamer through Siberia to the Russian penal colony on Sakhalin Island. Here he spent three months conducting a painstaking sociological survey, interviewing thousands of convicts and settlers. Chekhov witnessed much that shocked him, and in his report published in 1893-94, he emphasized the duty of the government to guarantee humane conditions. But the harsh conditions of the journey may also have worsened Chekhov's own physical condition. Chekhov returned via Hong Kong, Singapore, Ceylon, and the Suez Canal. Three stories would be based on his eastern journey: "Gusev," "In Exile" and "Murder."

In 1891, Chekhov worked on his novella "The Duel." Later that year, he visited Italy and France, experiences which would provide material for his later stories "An Anonymous Story" and "Ariadne."



Here are the stories from 1888, 1889, 1890 and 1891:

"A Story Without a Title” [1888]
A parable that tells in ironical way about the attraction of vice. This story has also been translated under the title "No Comment."
Adelaide; Gutenberg


“Sleepy [Let Me Sleep]” [1888]
Varka, a 13 year old poor girl, works as maid in a shoemaker's family. In the daytime, she is constantly ordered around, at night she has to rock the cradle of the baby who is crying all the time. She suffers from severe lack of sleep and is hallucinating. Could she finally get some sleep if that little monster would be quiet?
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Steppe [The Story of a Journey]” [1888]
A long and masterful story in which Chekhov revisits the Ukrainian and South-Russian steppes of his boyhood summer holidays; he was inspired by a trip back to his hometown of Taganrog in 1887.  The story is saturated with landscape, with the immense plains and the mysteries they harbored: from the coarse grass to ancient burial places and menhirs, windmills, water-towers, and Cossacks and Ukrainian peasants. The story is slight: a boy travels through the seemingly endless steppe with a caravan of carts loaded with cotton to the city where he will go to high-school. His companions are a priest and a merchant. During the trek there are various small incidents, above all the clashes with the bully Dymov. But instead of letting that come to a showdown, Chekhov deftly deflates the crisis into inconsequentiality - something which feels shockingly true to life. The story reads as a dictionary of Chekhov's poetics and was published in a literary journal rather than a newspaper - as would be mostly the case from now on.
AdelaideGutenberg

[Steppe zone of Ukraina, Photo Wikipedia

“Lights” [1888]
A doctor riding through the steppe at night meets a railroad engineer and his young assistant. They see mystical lights in the distance, but each one of them has his own interpretation - the cynical young man says they remind him "of something long dead, that lived thousands of years ago." He sees no point in striving for success or love, for we all have the same fate - death. The old engineer then tells a story of his youth, how when visiting his hometown on business he happened to meet a childhood friend, a woman with whom he had been secretly in love but who now was unhappily married. He thought of having a brief affair with her, but she clung to him as her savior, fleeing from her loveless marriage - he took her away, only to callously abandon her after he had taken his pleasure. Later he realized that by betraying her he had committed a crime worse than murder and he went back to her to ask for forgiveness. When the doctor in the early morning rides off, he decides that nothing is clear in this world - but that is how it is, only fools and charlatans claim they know and understand everything.
AdelaideGutenberg


"An Awkward Business" [1888]
A clash of social classes. A country doctor notes that his assistant is drunk and dishevelled on the job. The assistant (who has received his position through nepotism) refuses to obey an order and the doctor slaps the man in his face. Later the doctor feels slapping the assistant was an unprofessional act and he repents. He has never hit a man before. But although the doctor tries to be fair to his assistant, Russian conditions are such that he is comically doomed to be in his right, due to the laws of social hierarchy.
Google Books

[Armenian Woman by Bridgman - Photo Wikipedia]

“The Beauties” [1888]
A story containing two anecdotes about surprising and inexplicable "meetings" with young women who impressed the narrator with their beauty. One is a young Armenian woman serving tea. The second, many years later, is a carelessly dressed young Russian woman, who was standing outside a train window, speaking to one of the passengers. Nothing "happens" in this story - we only get two impressions that barely even amount to anecdote. It shows how little great literature needs plot. Chekhov's genius lies in the way he manages to convey a profound sense of the mystery of beauty - as well as of the sadness of sensitive people who observe and think. (Among colorful locals, in the first vignette this story also contains a portrait of Chekhov's grandfather Yegor).
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Party” [1888]
An a hot and sultry day magistrate Peter gives a party for his nameday. His seven months pregnant wife Olga is dead tired and irritable, having to cope with the pressure of having to entertain the guests. Those guests are vain and argumentative and she hates that she must be pleasant to all those hypocrites. Moreover, there is an emotional tension between her and her husband, who provides no support, but instead flirts with other women at the party. She is also infuriated by her husband's failure to share his professional concerns with her - in fact Olga has a better education than her husband as she went to university. After the guests have finally left after midnight, Olga and Peter have an argument. The physical and mental strains of the whole day suddenly cause that Olga goes into a prolonged and painful labor. Chekhov gives a harrowing description of her labor pains, based on his clinical observations. The result is a stillborn baby. Peter is desperate, but Olga only feels indifference and emptiness.
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Shoemaker and the Devil [The Cobbler and the Devil]” [1888]
A shoemaker dreams the Devil gives him wealth and riches, but after initial satisfaction, these only make him uncomfortable, so he is happy to wake up in his own world again.
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Bet” [1889]
A banker and a young lawyer make a bet whether the death penalty or life in prison is preferable. The lawyer who argues the last point offers to spend 15 years in solitary confinement - with books, food and wine - to prove his point and win 2 million roubles from the banker. By his vast reading in this period, he becomes a man of letters and realizes that knowledge is more important than money. The banker, in the meantime, looses his fortune and contemplates drastic measures as he will be unable to pay the 2 million roubles. The ending is a surprise...
AdelaideGutenberg

[Russian Cathedrals by Semlonov, as in "The Princess," - Photo Wikipedia]

“The Princess” [1889]
A haughty princess, who is a widow, regularly visits a certain monastery for peace and quiet. This time she happens to meet a doctor who used to be in her service. He rebukes her for her vanity: not only is she a burden to the monks, she is heartless to her servants and others around her, and her so-called "good works" are only a self-deluding theatrical act and totally ineffective. The next morning, however, the doctor offers his abject apologies - again an instance of Russian hierarchy, or does he not want to cause her suffering out of the Christian spirit of the monastery?
AdelaideGutenberg


“A Dreary Story [A Boring Story]” [1889]
Another medical story, this time consisting of the uninterrupted lament of a medical professor who is facing death and realizes he has lived without purpose. He is impatient with colleagues and weary with family affairs, only feeling indifference when his daughter elopes with a scoundrel and vulgarian. When his ward asks him for important advice about her life, he is unable to say anything. Having discovered the meaninglessness of life, the professor is now useless to the living. The story is, as it were, a hymn to the futility of existence, but without getting "dreary" - despite the title. Chekhov himself, by the way, was different: he was a skeptic, but never a cynic.
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Teacher of Literature” [1889]
A young man, a teacher of literature at the local school, marries the woman of his dreams. Seemingly he has everything: a lovely wife, a secure job, and a comfortable house (thanks to his wife's dowry). But than he realizes how vulgar his wife and her family are, and also that he in fact hates his job. Suddenly, he feels trapped... trapped for life in a meaningless existence. Or is it his failure that he can't find the meaning of his life?
AdelaideGutenberg


“A Nervous Breakdown [An Attack of Nerves]” [1889]
Three students spend a night on the town, drinking and visiting prostitutes. The law student Vasilyev is so repulsed by the animalistic women that he gets an"attack of nerves." He becomes obsessed with the social problem of prostitution. His friends, who are medical students, view the situation with clinical detachment and consider also Vasilyev himself as just a "medical case."
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Horse-stealers (Thieves)” [1890]
A hospital assistant, weak against drink and women, seeks refuge in a tavern while a snowstorm is raging. In the same tavern he finds Kalashnikov, who is a notorious horse thief. He plans to leave at the same time as Kalashnikov, so that the thief will not be able to steal his horse (that belongs to the hospital), but he is waylaid by the bar maid Lyuba. Of course, his horse is stolen, and he finally looses his job.
AdelaideGutenberg


“Gusev” [1890]
Five soldiers are lying ill in the infirmary of a ship returning from East Asia to Russia. Among them are Gusev, who keeps dreaming of his family's farm, and Pavel Ivanych, a member of the revolutionary intelligentsia. Gusev has always demure, even when badly treated; Pavel Ivanych is a troublemaker who always denounces injustice. He can not imagine he will die like the others, and protests, but can not evade the death that fate has in store for him. Gusev only feels baffled at his own impending death. After he dies, his body is sewn in a canvas bag and thrown into the sea and we follow it as it descends through a school of fish while the sun shines brilliantly on the waters. Gusev's death is understated, the pathos only implied.
AdelaideGutenberg


“Peasant Wives [Peasant Woman]” [1891]
About a dysfunctional family living in a squalid village. A traveler comes by the village and tells the story of how in another village a woman poisoned her husband after being beaten up. One of the peasant women, whose life is made hell by her drunken husband and father-in-law, feels stimulated by the story, but is also afraid to take action. When the traveler leaves the next morning, her glimmer of hope of release also dies.
AdelaideGutenberg


“The Duel” [1891]
A long story set in the Caucasus, depicting the antagonism between a young, Bohemian romantic and idealist, Layevsky, and a cold-blooded, hard-working, ambitious zoologist, von Koren, who has fanatical convictions about the need to "exterminate" cases like Layevsky. Layevsky reforms at the end. For a more detailed resume, see my separate post about The Duel.
AdelaideGutenberg


The best stories of this period are in my view:

  • The Steppe
  • The Duel
  • A Dreary Story
  • The Party
  • The Beauties
***

Other posts in this series:





July 27, 2013

The Stories of Henry James (1): "The Untried Years," 1864-1874 (Book Review)

Henry James's short fiction has - with some exceptions - often been overshadowed by his novels, but the 112 short stories he wrote are in fact an astonishing achievement. Here we look at the early stories written from 1864 to 1874.

Henry James was born into a fabulously wealthy and (what is rare) also very cultured and intellectual family in New York. His parents took the family on extended trips in Europe, leading an almost nomadic life. Henry James studied with tutors in Geneva, Paris, Bologna, Bonn and London; and he also briefly studied law at Harvard University, but preferred literature, and ended up spending his time at university reading interesting books in the library. But also after the brief stint at Harvard he remained in Cambridge as his family moved there in 1864. His first story was published - anonymously - when he was 21 years of age ("A Tragedy of Error," 1864) and in the next few years he became a contributor to The Nation and the Atlantic Monthly. In 1865 the first story ("The Story of a Year") was published under his own name.

In 1969 and 1870 James traveled alone in Europe, going as far as Switzerland and Italy, and meeting many famous artists as William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, George Eliot, and many others. He payed his way by publishing essays and stories inspired by his travels. Henry James especially loved Italy and Italian art, although he never settled there. At home, he had found a friend and patron in William Dean Howells. James's first novel (Watch and Ward) was in 1871 serialized in the Atlantic Monthly, of which Howells was the editor.

Bored with life in the U.S., James again left for Europe in 1872. He stayed for two years, again supporting himself by writing for outstanding American magazines. In 1874, he again spent a year in America, before finally settling down in Europe from 1875 on..




The 26 stories written from 1864 to 1874 encompass a wide range of subjects, settings, and techniques. Although starting with short stories of less than 10,000 words, this form soon proved too constricting for James, and we soon see him writing "long short stories," in fact novellas, of between 15,000 and 20,000 words. Several themes that appear in this early period (with the exception of the Civil War) would be typical for the whole oeuvre of Henry James:

- stories with a Civil War setting: "The story of a Year", "Poor Richard," etc.)
- supernatural and fantastic motifs: "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," "De Grey: A Romance" and "The Last of the Valerii"
- James International theme, the cultural clash between Europe and America: "A Passionate Pilgrim," "Madame de Mauves"
- the ambivalent fascination of strong, independent (and usually American) women
- the "fear of marriage" motif ("Eugene Pickering") and the "renunciating" male ("Madame de Mauves")
- a fascination with art and artists: "A Landscape Painter," "Travelling Companions," "The Sweetheart of M Briseux" and "The Madonna of the Future"


Here are the stories with links to where to find them on the internet:

A Tragedy of Error [1864]
First published in The Continental Monthly of February 1864
The first story ever published by James. Typical juvenilia, but not devoid of freshness. A woman has taken a lover during her husband's absence. Then the husband suddenly returns by ship. The wife makes a pact with a brutal boatsman to drown the husband when he is being rowed ashore. Unfortunately, she had not counted on her lover also visiting the ship to greet her husband...
Text available at: Wikisource

[The American Civil War, which figures in "The Story of a Year" - Photo Wikipedia]

The Story of a Year [1865]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly of March 1865
A story set in the time of the Civil War, but showing the "reverse of the picture," i.e. no heroism, for James hated war. Just before going off to the battlefield, Jack Ford becomes engaged to Lizzie Crowe. His mother (who is at the same time Lizzie's guardian) disapproves, she considers Lizzie as too shallow. In Jack's absence Lizzie conceives a liking for non-combatant Bruce, whom she meets at a party. His mother, full of hatred for Lizzie, breaks the news of Lizzie's defection in a letter to Jack. After that, Jack is severely wounded in action and brought home, at the door of death. It was the news from his mother that wounded him, more sure than a bullet, and the fact that Lizzie doesn't want him anymore as a man, now finishes him off. Lizzie pities him, but doesn't want him. In his last hours Jack feels a transcending love for Lizzie, and in this condition he resigns her to Bruce.
Text available at: State University of New York, New Paltz

A Landscape Painter [1866]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly of February 1866. First book edition in Stories Revived (3 vols) of 1885.
James’s third-published story. An ironical tale about a rich man who has broken off a relationship when he realized the woman was only after his money. He now pretends to be a poor landscape painter and while spending time on the New England coast, nursing his wounded heart, meets an old sailor’s daughter. He falls in love but after the marriage she is revealed as just "another" gold-digger - she discovered his value thanks to secretly reading his diary (which is at the same time the story we are reading). A very clever story.
Text available at: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center.
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

A Day of Days [1866]
First published in The Galaxy of June 1866. First book edition in Stories Revived (3 vols) of 1885.
A summer day in New England. A young woman who lives with her scientist brother in the country, receives a visitor who requires letters of reference for a trip to Europe from her brother. While waiting for the brother to return home, she keeps the visitor company and takes a walk with him. He tells her he will leave the next day and remain for five years in Europe. She halfheartedly tempts him to stay, but is not sure of herself and in the end, he departs. A typically open Jamesian text.
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

[Shoreline near Newport, setting of "My Friend Bingham"
- Photo Wikipedia]

My Friend Bingham [1867]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly of March 1867
While hunting at the seashore, Bingham has accidentally shot a widow's only child. He is so overcome with sorrow that the mother pities, esteems, then loves him.
Text available at: Atlantic Monthly (scan of original at Cornell University Library)

Poor Richard [1867]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly of June, July and August 1867. First book edition in Stories Revived (3 vols) of 1885.
It is the time of the Civil War. A wealthy young woman, Gertrude, has three suitors, a Captain, a Major and Richard Clare, a local farmer. Richard Clare is deeply conscious of his "insignificance" in the presence of these two military suitors. The Captain, who is the most favored, dies in the war. But the other two are not sufficiently worthy to succeed, and Gertrude prefers to remain single.
Text available at: Atlantic Monthly 1, 2 and 3 (scan of original at Cornell University Library)
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

The Romance of Certain Old Clothes [1868]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly of February 1868. First book edition in A passionate pilgrim and other tales of 1875.
A historical tale with a Gothic twist. In mid-eighteenth century New England, two sisters are in rivalry for the hand of an Englishman. The younger sister wins him but dies in childbirth. The older sister takes her place. On her deathbed, the younger sister had asked the husband to preserve her trousseau for her baby, a daughter. The older sister, now wife of the widower and stepmother to the child, is curious to see the contents of the chest which is kept in the attic. She secretly opens it and is later found dead, with inexplicable marks of fingers on her throat. Although this story is an early example of the theme of the supernatural in James' work, it is not very typical because of the historical setting.
Text available at: Atlantic Monthly (scan of original at Cornell University Library) Project Gutenberg Consortia Center.
Introduction and text at The Ladder.
Wikipedia.

A Most Extraordinary Case [1868]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly of April 1868. First book edition in Stories Revived (3 vols) of 1885.
A Civil War veteran, Mason, survives the conflict without injuries, but is stricken by illness at the end. The nature of the disorder is not disclosed. An affectionate aunt takes Mason into her home to care for him. There Mason meets a beautiful niece with whom he falls in love, however without divulging his feelings. But when he hears that his own doctor has successfully wooed the niece, he has a relapse and dies.  "This is the most extraordinary case I ever heard of," concludes the doctor. "The man was getting steadily well." Like in "The Story of a Year," it is the fact that a woman can not respond to the wounded man's love that in the end makes him fade away.
Text available at: Atlantic Monthly (scan of original at Cornell University Library)
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

The Story of a Masterpiece [1868]
First published in The Galaxy of January and February 1868
Baxter, a young artist has been commissioned by her future rich husband, Mr Lenox, to paint the portrait of Marian Everett. As he has been himself has been engaged to her, with some love still lingering, his portrait succeeds all too well. After the marriage, Mr Lenox cuts the portrait to pieces.
No online text available.

A Problem [1868]
First published in The Galaxy, June 1868
A young married pair has received the prophecies of two different fortune tellers. The first one says that the young man will marry twice; the second one that the young couple's child, a girl, will die. Jealous about the first prophecy, the wife leaves her husband. Then the child indeed dies and the pair is reunited in sorrow - and they marry for the second time.
No online text available.

De Grey: A Romance [1868]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, July 1868
A curse rests on the old family of De Grey: every young woman engaged to the heir will die within a month unless the bond is a loveless one. Margaret becomes engaged to Paul de Grey, and although she hears about the family curse, she refuses to break off the engagement. Instead, she curses the curse - with unexpected results...
Text available at: Atlantic Monthly (scan of original at Cornell University Library); Internet Archive


[Historic street in Newport, Long Island, the setting of "Osborn's Revenge" - Photo Wikipedia ]

Osborne's Revenge [1868]
First published in The Galaxy, July 1868
Robert Graham kills himself out of love for Henrietta Congreve. His friend Osborne thinking her a flirt wants to take revenge, but after making her acquaintance, realizes that she is a fine person who was on the contrary stalked by his friend.
Text at: State University of New York, New Paltz

A Light Man [1869]
First published in The Galaxy, July 1869. First appearance in book form in the collection Stories by American Authors published in New York by Scribner in 1884.
Ambiguous story with an unreliable narrator. A young man (insincere and idle) returns to America from Europe. His friend who works as live-in secretary for an old Epicure, invites him to stay. The old man takes a liking to him and unintentionally he supplants his friend in the rich man's affection, with consequences for the will. The old will is destroyed, but the old man dies before a new one can be made. Neither of the young man therefore receives any inheritance. It is possible to interpret the rich old man as an elderly homosexual, who pays for the attentions of two much younger man, both competing to be his favorite - but James has buried this subtext deep in the story. James' biographer, Leon Edel, interpretes the story on the other hand as symbolic of the competitive relation James had with his older brother, William.
Text at: Project Gutenberg
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

Gabrielle De Bergerac [1869]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, July, August and September 1869
The elderly M. de Bergerac owes the unnamed narrator money which he cannot repay. Instead, he offers him a painting, a portrait of his aunt, Gabrielle de Bergerac, who was a beautiful woman. Then he tells the story of that aunt and her two suitors, a rich but debauched count and a poor tutor... It is a romantic, almost Balzacian story, set in pre-Revolutionary France, but James breaks the magic by informing us at the end that the lovers did not live long and happy ever after. 
Text at: State University of New York, New Paltz

[Venice by Canaletto, one of the settings of "Traveling Companions" 
- Photo Wikipedia]

Traveling Companions [1870]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, November and December 1870
A tale of courtship with a setting in Italy and lots of sightseeing in the museums of Milan, Padua and Venice. A young American traveling in Italy meets two persons from his own country, a father and his daughter, Charlotte. He shares a deep interest in art with the daughter. A problem arises when on one of the outings they miss their train and are left alone in Padua - in James' time, the reputation of an unmarried woman would be sullied if she was unchaperoned by a male relative or an older woman. And indeed, rumors are started... but although the narrator nobly offers marriage, Charlotte refuses to be married for such a reason. Later, they marry after all, but for a better reason.
Text at Internet Archive.

A Passionate Pilgrim [1871]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, March and April 1871. First book edition in A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales published by Osgood in Boston 1875. Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09). 
An American claimant to an English estate learns that the Old World Cannot give him a home. Clement Searle, a sensitive American with a great nostalgia for England, has a vague ancestral claim to an English estate. When the owner of the Elizabethan manor house discovers his design, he is driven out, despite the fact that the sister has some soft feelings for him. He has tried to possess something that does not belong to him. He finally starts hallucinating and dies of a fever. There are clear ghostly overtones in the narrative and the ending is sadly ironical. The many traditional English scenes in this story show James' love for his adopted country.
Text at: Wikisource; Project Gutenberg

[Simplon Pass, Italian side, the setting of "At Isella"  - Photo Wikipedia]

At Isella [1871]
First published in The Galaxy, August 1871.
The protagonist is hiking in the Alps on the border of Switzerland and Italy. This first part of the tale is little more than a travelogue painting the majesty of the Saint Gothard and Simplon Passes.  In the inn where he stays the night, a handsome Italian marchesina appears. She has run away from her husband and he helps her with money, so that she can get away and join her lover. When the husband arrives at the inn, he is told nobody has seen a marchesina at Isella. When James first went to Italy in 1869, he crossed the Alps in the same way as described here.
Text at: Internet Archive

Master Eustace [1871]
First published in The Galaxy, August 1871. First book edition in Stories Revived (3 vols) of 1885.
A psychological study of the ruthlessness of a spoiled child. A haughty youth, Eustace, lives with his mother, a widow, and his governess. The mother treats the son almost as a lover, as an heir-apparent. The boy feels in complete possession. But when he goes on a tour of Europe, on his homecoming he finds that his mother has married an old and loyal friend. The boy explodes in anger and violence, treating his mother like an unfaithful wife. The ending of this story is too melodramatic, although there is a nice twist to the scene with a pistol-flourish with which it ends. But the mother dies of heart failure and dispossession is complete.
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

Guest's Confession [1872]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, October and November 1872
A tale of two brothers, the older a successful businessman with a vengeful character, the younger a sensitive and artistic person. The elder brother is also a hypochondriac and an invalid. The younger brother has been courting a young woman at a summer resort. The elder brother arrives and discovers that the father of the girl, Mr Guest, is a man who has recently swindled him out of a large sum of money. He forces Mr Guest to kneel in public and confess his sins and exacts a written confession. Will the younger brother still be able to win the girl or have his chances been ruined?
Text at: Internet Archive; Project Gutenberg Consortia Center; State University of New York, New Paltz

[The Madonna painting by Raphael that is admired by the painter in "The Madonna of the Future"  - Photo Wikipedia]

The Madonna of the Future [1873]
First published in The Atlantic monthly, March 1873. First book edition in A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales published by Osgood in Boston 1875. Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09). 
"The Madonna of the Future" is to be Theobald's masterpiece: the Madonna to end all Madonnas, a grand resume of the Madonna tradition in the Italian school. Theobald also has found the right woman to use as his model (who clearly is a prostitute, although that is not mentioned). But instead of painting his masterpiece, for twenty years he just keeps thinking of it, planning it, and paying adoring visits to the future model - who also is getting older... When the narrator remarks casually to Theobald that his model has lost her youth, it is as if he gives the painter a mortal blow. When he dies, all he leaves behind is a chimera. He has lived with an obsession and clung to a sterile past. But James follows the would-be artist in his dream and thereby creates a sympathetic feeling.
Text at: Project Gutenberg; Project Gutenberg Consortia Center

The Sweetheart of M. Briseux [1873]
First published in The Galaxy, June 1873
The "Sweetheart of M. Briseux" is an ironical title, for the original of M. Briseux's famous painting "The Lady in a Yellow Shawl" was only a model to him, and no more, as she - at a much later age - explains to the writer. She had gone to Europe with a friend of her mother, and that friend's son Harold, who had artistic ambitions. She became engaged to Harold but set the condition for the wedding that Harold should first paint her portrait (she had secret falterings about his suitability). She saw the picture, and was dissatisfied with it; a poor painter, M. Briseux, happened to come in and offer to touch it up; Harold angrily refused and broke the engagement. M. Briseux now painted her new portrait "The Lady with the Yellow Shawl" - and that painting became famous. At the opening of the story the writer and the original model are both gazing at this masterpiece in an art gallery.
Text at: Internet Archive

[Juno, the goddess whose statue is unearthed in "The Last of the Valerii" - Photo Wikipedia]

The Last of the Valerii [1874]
First published in The Atlantic monthly, January 1874. First book edition in A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales published by Osgood in Boston 1875. 
Woman versus statue. Count Valerio falls in love with a statue of Juno, an archaeological find in the grounds of his ancient villa, and a gulf opens between him and his young American wife. He is in thrall with the old, pagan Roman religion and walks around in a disturbed state, neglecting his wife. Finally, the wife takes the initiative to have the statue buried again. A story more about the psychology of the scion of a centuries old family than about supernatural events, although the Juno statue exerts a mysterious power. It is ironical that, in the beginning of the story, the American wife pushes to excavate the garden of their old villa, while the Italian husband rather would rather leave things alone.
Introduction and text at The Ladder.

[The Terrace at St. Germain in Spring, by Alfred Sisley - the setting of "Madame de Mauves"  - Photo Wikipedia]

Madame de Mauves [1874]
First published in The Galaxy, February and March 1874. First book edition in A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales published by Osgood in Boston 1875. Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09).  
James's first sustained look at a transatlantic marriage, and an account of an American woman's recoil of her French husband's moral universe. A young American with artistic aspirations, is introduced to Madame de Mauves, a prim young American (with a fortune) married to a debauched French count and living outside of Paris, in St. Germain. She is deeply hurt by her husband's infidelities (but also determined to endure them) and confides in her countryman; During the long walks they take, he falls in love with her but decides to renunciate his feelings as he wants to devote his life to art but above all because he feels she would be too strong for him. Madame de Mauves, by the way, never contemplates leaving her husband or being untrue to her marriage - while the husband would like to see her commit a faux pas as that would make his own mental burden easier. After the young American has left France, he later learns that the husband has committed suicide, unable the bear the strength of his wife.
Text at: Project Gutenberg; Wikisource

[The Roman Campagna by Haseltine, the setting of "Adina" - Photo Wikipedia]


Adina [1874]
First published in Scribner's Monthly, May and June 1874
The American Scrope, a cynical classical scholar, has bullied the young Italian Angelo Beato ("Blessed Angel") in selling him for a ridiculously low price a priceless topaz intaglio he has found. Angelo stalks him and his fiancee Adina, bent on some sort of satisfaction. Adina (a rather wayward woman who is easily swayed) develops tender feelings for the handsome Angelo, although she only catches brief glimpses of him, and finally breaks her engagement and elopes with him. "She is better than the topaz," says Angelo. Scrope throws the unlucky gem into the muddy Tiber.
Text at: Internet Archive

Professor Fargo [1874]
First published in The Galaxy, August 1874
A commercial traveler, the narrator, has to spend some days in a boring small provincial town. There he meets three performers: Professor Fargo, a charlatan who pretends to be a medium, Colonel Gilford, an accomplished but unpractical and impecunious mathematician, and the latter's deaf and dumb daughter, who is a genius with figures but also an enigma. Later the narrator encounters the three in New York, where their performance is a failure. It is now time for the Professor and the Colonel to part, but as he leaves, Professor Fargo carries off the girl, who goes with him readily. This calls the switch of allegiance in "Adina" to mind - here, too, brought about by sheer animal magnetism.
Text at: Internet Archive

[Homburg in the German Saarland, the setting of "Eugene Pickering" - Photo Wikipedia]

Eugene Pickering [1874]
First published in The Atlantic monthly of October and November 1874. First book edition in A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales published by Osgood in Boston 1875.
Eugene Pickering is an unworldy young American who has been kept on a short lease by his father - the father has even arranged his engagement to a girl he does not know. He is not only literally naive in the ways of the world, due to his long seclusion, but also symbolically "shortsighted." When his father dies, he wants to finally experience the world and tours around Europe. In Homburg he falls in love with a beautiful woman, Madame Blumenthal, who is not wholly respectable... When Eugene finally opens a letter he received a month ago from his fiancee's father, he learns she has resisted the forced engagement and set him free. This changes Eugene's mind about her and he now decides to return to the U.S. and try to win her hand.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

The best stories among the above are in my view:
  • Madame de Mauves - for the fine psychology of Madame the Mauves and the American writes who is the narrator - both feel attracted to the other but also see the impossibility of becoming closer.
  • The Madonna of the Future  - for showing how easy it is to waste a whole life in just dreams.
  • The Last of the Valerii - for the Pagan Roman atmosphere and the influence an ancient statue has on modern lives.
  • Osborne's Revenge - for showing that we should not judge others on hearsay, but only after properly getting to know them.
  • Eugene Pickering - for showing us life's irony.

*****

If you prefer to read the stories in book form, the recommended edition is that of the Complete Stories of Henry James, in five volumes, in The Library of America. Collections of stories are also available, for example in two volumes in Everyman's Library, or in Penguin Classics.

Essential websites about Henry James are: The Ladder, a Henry James Website written and edited by Adrian Dover; and The Henry James Scholar's Guide to Websites by Richard D. Hathaway.

The definitive biography on James has been written by Leon Edel, The Life of Henry James, in five volumes (1955-1972). There is also a shortened version: Henry James, A Life (1985) - which still runs to above 700 pages.