Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pagi-Nation: Yikes! It's Henry James, folks.

Welcome to the weekly instalment of "Pagi-Nation," in which I spin round my room and pluck an unsuspecting volume off my shelves.

I must admit my heart groaned at this week's pick: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. (I apologize if I have any Jamesian fanatics among my readership, but old Hank has never rocked my boat, lit my fire etc. Even 30 years ago, as an eager-beaver English major who delighted in ploughing through Milton and James Joyce, for heaven's sake, I'd find my head with a large dent in it from collapse on the library table after just a few pages of H. James. I recommend him to insomniacs everywhere.)

But this is the book the universe wants highlighted this week, faithful readers. And this is the phrase I plucked from page 402:

Madame Merle was doubtless of great use to herself and an ornament to any circle; but was she--would she be--of use to others in periods of refined embarrassment?

[The next time I'm embarrassed, I shall be busy wondering whether it's refined embarrassment or not! I suppose it all depends on whether one is carrying a handkerchief...]

When was the last time you were of use to others in periods of refined embarrassment? Do tell.


  1. Oh bother, 5th grade! I've not got out much, really. My first thought to your Q. is that of helping a young class mate friend who'd dumped her dirt in our science experiment all over herself. I grabbed some extra newspaper, set it on the ground under the mishap and dusted we the poor embarrassed young friend out. She is really refined now.
    She was so amazed by my act, and thought I was smart. She had been mortified at herself is all and I simply knew what to do, not being the dumper. Just silly how refined that may not be, but maybe the dirt was. I've been chatting with old school mates about that year actually, our teacher ended up quitting to be a logger and ended up a victim of Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980, he was a great guy! So there you are and here am I. Tootles. Have a fabulous Sunday. Always enjoy your posts! Always in the PNW, Caio! :)

  2. Thanks, Allison! That certainly makes me look at James' use of 'refined embarrassment' in a different light.

    The story about your teacher who became a logger is also interesting. Where in the PNW are you?

    Have a great week.


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