At Isella

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

At Isella first appeared in The Galaxy Magazine for August 1871. Its first appearance in book for was as part of the collection Travelling Companions published in New York by Boni and Liveright in 1919, three years after James’s death.


At Isella

Simplon Pass 1919 – by John Singer Sargeant


At Isella – critical commentary

This tale is little more than a travelogue and study in landscape word-painting, coupled to an anecdote. The first part of the story is a vivid and romantic account of travelling through the Alps in southern Switzerland, towards the Italian border. The narrator emphasises the rugged grandeur of the Saint Gothard, the Furka, and the Simplon passes; and he keeps before him a romanticised view of everything lush, comfortable, and welcoming that he feels lying in wait for his arrival in Italy.

The second part of the story is his meeting with the mysterious woman going in the opposite direction for roughly similar reasons – to join someone she loves. The only element approaching a story or plot is that the reader is given every reason to believe that the narrator will turn out to be the victim of a confidence trick. The mysterious woman takes his money without offering any evidence to support her story of an irate husband being in hot pursuit to catch her. But in fact the husband turns up the next morning – so our ‘expectations’ in terms of traditional narratives are thwarted.

However, it has to be said that the effect is somewhat bathetic. There is no lesson for the narrator or anyone else to draw from the episode. The Italian inn-keeper lies to assist the woman in flight from her husband – but that is all.


At Isella – study resources

At Isella The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

At Isella The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

At Isella Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon UK

At Isella Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon US

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Red button Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

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


At Isella – plot summary

An un-named narrator gives a rather critical account of Switzerland, which he is leaving to spend some time in northern Italy. He climbs the Saint Gothard Pass road, stays with clergymen in a hospice, then descends into Lombardy via the Simplon Pass.

When he reaches Isella, he meets an Italian woman travelling in the opposite direction. They dine together, and he speculates on her age and social background. She reveals that she has been unhappy in Italy. He delivers a romantic encomium to the country, then reveals that he is en route to meet his fiancée in Florence. She is running away from her husband and going to meet a friend in Geneva.

She tell him her background story – how her brother was killed, then she met and loved his best friend the artist Ernesto. But her father forced her to marry a man three years previously who turned out to be a ‘brute’. She has corresponded with Ernesto, who is now ill in Geneva.

She has run away from her husband, but does not have the money for her fare to Switzerland. The narrator gives her the money, and she departs immediately. Next day her husband turns up looking for her, but the inn-keeper denies she has been there.


Principal characters
I an un-named American narrator
an un-named Italian woman
Bonifazio the Italian inn-keeper at Isella

At Isella - Henry James portrait

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant


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 J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.

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 Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

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

Red button Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976

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 Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Red button Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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 The Spoils of PoyntonThe Spoils of Poynton (1896) is a short novel which centres on the contents of a country house, and the question of who is the most desirable person to inherit it via marriage. The owner Mrs Gereth is being forced to leave her home to make way for her son and his greedy and uncultured fiancee. Mrs Gereth develops a subtle plan to take as many of the house’s priceless furnishings with her as possible. But things do not go quite according to plan. There are some very witty social ironies, and a contest of wills which matches nouveau-riche greed against high principles. There’s also a spectacular finale in which nobody wins out.
Henry James The Spoils of Poynton Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Spoils of Poynton Buy the book from Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2013


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.


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