The Tone of Time

tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links

The Tone of Time first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in November 1900 – a remarkably productive year for James in terms of shorter fiction. It was a period which saw the publication of The Great Good Place, Maud-Evelyn, Miss Gunton of Poughkeepsie, The Special Type, The Abasement of the Northmores, The Third Person, The Tree of Knowledge, and the story which is widely regarded as his finest – The Beast in the Jungle. He wrote all of these (and more) in addition to working on his next novel, The Sacred Fount (1901).


The Tone of Time

Leon Riesener – Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)


The Tone of Time – critical commentary

The story turns on the coincidence that two women who were once rivals for the same man recognise each other via the effect his portrait has upon them. One of them paints the portrait on a verbal commission from the other, mediated via the narrator, who knows them both. The narrator acts as a catalyst, and even inherits the painting, without ever knowing the identity of the man in question.


The Tone of Time – study resources

The Tone of Time The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

The Tone of Time The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

The Tone of Time Complete Stories 1898—1910 – Library of America – Amazon UK

The Tone of Time Complete Stories 1898—1910 – Library of America – Amazon US

The Tone of Time The Tone of Time – Digireads reprint edition – Amazon UK

The Tone of Time The Tone of Time – eBook formats at Gutenberg Consortia

Red button The Tone of Time – read the story on line

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Red button The Prefaces of Henry James – Introductions to his tales and novels

Red button Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

Red button Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources


The Tone of Time – plot summary

Part I. Mrs Bridgenorth is a middle-aged lady who wishes to commission a portrait of an ideally handsome man to hang in her house. The narrator, a successful painter, recommends the task to a colleague Mary Tredick, who is very good at producing copies. She doesn’t wish to meet the patron, but produces a striking portrait of a man she has once known and loved unhappily.

Part II. When Mrs Bridgenorth is shown the portrait she recognises the subject and reveals that it is someone to whom she was engaged before he died, but who she refuses to name. She is so stricken with the portrait that she offers to double the fee. The narrator reports this to Mary Tredick, who suspects that Mrs Bridgenorth knows something, and she retrieves her painting. When confronted by the narrator Mary reveals that she was once in a relationship with the man, but he ‘failed’ her in favour of Mrs Bridgenorth, who tried to make him marry her. Mary has intuited all this from Mrs Bridgenorth’s intense reaction to the painting. The narrator offers to buy the picture from her, but she refuses, leaving it to him in her will instead. Eventually after her death he has possession of the painting but still doesn’t know the identity of its subject.


Principal characters
an un-named male narrator
Mary Juliana Tredick a painter
Mrs Bridgenorth commissioner of the painting

Henry James portrait

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant


Henry James's study

Henry James’s study


Further reading

Biographical

Red button Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Red button F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.

Red button Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.

Red button Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.

Red button Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.

Red button Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

Red button F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Critical commentary

Red button Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.

Red button Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.

Red button Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.

Red button Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Red button Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.

Red button Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.

Red button Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.

Red button Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.

Red button Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Red button Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Red button Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009

Red button John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Red button Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Red button Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.


Other works by Henry James

Henry James Washington SquareWashington Square (1880) is a superb early short novel, It’s the tale of a young girl whose future happiness is being controlled by her strict authoritarian (but rather witty) father. She is rather reserved, but has a handsome young suitor. However, her father disapproves of him, seeing him as an opportunist and a fortune hunter. There is a battle of wills – all conducted within the confines of their elegant New York town house. Who wins out in the end? You will probably be surprised by the outcome. This is a masterpiece of social commentary, offering a sensitive picture of a young woman’s life.
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon US

 

Henry James The Aspern PapersThe Aspern Papers (1888) is a psychological drama set in Venice which centres on the tussle for control of a great writer’s correspondence. An elderly lady, ex-lover of the writer, seeks a husband for her daughter. But the potential purchaser of the papers is a dedicated bachelor. Money is also at stake – but of course not discussed overtly. There is a refined battle of wills between them. Who will win in the end? As usual, James keeps the reader guessing. The novella is a masterpiece of subtle narration, with an ironic twist in its outcome. This collection of stories also includes three of his accomplished long short stories – The Private Life, The Middle Years, and The Death of the Lion.
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon US

 

Henry James Daisy MillerDaisy Miller (1879) is a key story from James’s early phase in which a spirited young American woman travels to Europe with her wealthy but commonplace mother. Daisy’s innocence and her audacity challenge social conventions, and she seems to be compromising her reputation by her independent behaviour. But when she later dies in Rome the reader is invited to see the outcome as a powerful sense of a great lost potential. This novella is a great study in understatement and symbolic power.
Daisy Miller Buy the book from Amazon UK
Daisy Miller Buy the book from Amazon US


Henry James – web links

Henry James  web links Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.

Henry James web links The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at Amazon.co.uk. The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.

Henry James web links The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

Red button A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.

Henry James web links The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.

Henry James web links Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.

Henry James web links Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.

Henry James web links The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Henry James web links The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.

Henry James web links Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.

Henry James web links Henry James on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of James’s novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production features, film reviews, box office, and even quizzes.

© Roy Johnson 2012


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