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Henry James…Oklahoma Chautauqua 2014

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Dr. John Anderson walked onto the stage, shoulders back, perfect posture. He was a handsome man. He wore a starched white shirt, an expensive tie, a tailored suit, and not a hair out of place.

Once on stage, he was introduced as Henry James, the expatriate American writer. He was known for his portrayals of Americans. He wrote The Ambassadors, The Turn of the Screw, The Princess Casamassima, and The Portrait of a Lady. His favorite book was, The Ambassadors. He was a great observer of the human condition.

After the introduction, Dr. Anderson, paused, looked at the audience, and he became Henry James. The audience was transported to the years 1843-1916. His voice was strong and confident, his eyes piercing, and his opinions were many.

The evening was warm with a slight breeze, and the crowd in Enid, Oklahoma was hanging on to every eloquent word, Mr. James, (Dr. John Anderson), said. Henry James felt he needed to live in Europe to become a writer. He claimed to aspire, “to write in such a way that it would be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am, at a given moment, an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America.”

His advice to other writers was to write from experience. Experience is never limited; it is never complete. It is the atmosphere of the mind. To be a writer, he said you must try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost. He would write in the morning and a little in the afternoon. He was regimented with his craft.

He was unable to concentrate on his writing in August 1914, during the early months of the Great War. He described himself as dipping his nose in the inkwell, “but it’s as if there were no ink there and I take it out smelling gunpowder, smelling blood

Mr. James came from a well-heeled family. His shoes were invariably polished to a high sheen, his clothes consistently perfect; he had a man-servant, to make sure he always looked sharp. His family supported his writing career. Mr. James liked a high lifestyle, and he had the charm to go with it. He socialized with the elite, including Winston Churchill. Mr. James looked like money. He had that air about him. Mr. James said he had a sensuous education. He came from a famously intellectual family. Both his father and his brother were philosophers. He was highly educated in Europe. He said he developed the European Virus, a passion for the old.

Even though he was extremely handsome, he remained a bachelor all his life. He was always attentive to women, but he said he was good at being a bachelor. He once lived with a lady who suffered with depression, a disease Mr. James, also suffered from. One day, the depression was more than his girlfriend could handle, and she jumped out of their window to her death.

Mr. James was adamantly against women suffrage. He felt the woman should be domestic rather than vote... He said the dynamic of the time was very simple; women look at other women as people, and men look at women as a woman. However, in other areas he was far ahead of his time.

Some of the advice Mr. James would give people was to live a wild and crazy life. He encouraged people to live in the moment. He believed that it is art that makes life; there is no substitute for its beauty. He put his arms out to the audience, his palms up, and expressed in a passionate voice that in this life, we must do one thing, then he had a long pregnant pause, and his voice boomed as he said, “Live!”

Henry James, explained to us how unusual World War I, was. The soldiers had the attitude they were there to fight, and they could not wait to get shot at; they wanted to defend American at the most precious level of commitment of all, their lives. Mr. James did not serve because of a back injury, but he served in a personal way by comforting wounded soldiers.

In his 1898 review of American Ideals by Theodore Roosevelt, he challenged Roosevelt’s oversimplified view of Americanism. Mr. James became disgusted with what was going on in the United States and became an English citizen, pledging his allegiance to King George V. He was born in New York City, but had been a resident of England for almost forty years.

Mr. James made a reputation as one of the greatest novelists in the English language.

To learn about great figures of history, attend the Enid, Ok. Summer Chautauqua. This year’s theme, A Crisis of Confidence: War that Changed the World. The event runs from June 17 – 21 at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, 507 South 4th, Enid, Oklahoma.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

--Henry James to his nephew William (Billy) James (1902)

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