Alsager, to whom he promised details that would amuse her in later and still happier hours. Her eyes were full of tears when he read her the last words of the finished work, and she murmured, divinely - "And now--to get it done, to get it done! I want to intensely, but I'm sorry I want to. Alsager, a little off her guard. It's there that they end! Alsager; "they're discouraging, because they're vulgar. The other problem, the working out of the thing itself, is pure art. The roll of his copy, in his fist, was squeezed into the hollow of one of them.
He looked down at Mrs. Alsager, smiling gratefully, and she answered him with a smile from eyes still charmed and suffused. You must leave it with me, I must read it over and over," Mrs. Alsager pleaded, rising to come nearer and draw the copy, in its cover of greenish-grey paper, which had a generic identity now to him, out of his grasp. Before he could answer she had stopped at one of the pages; she turned the book round to him, pointing out a speech.
He knew them by heart, and, closing the book while she held the other end of it, he murmured them over to her--they had indeed a cadence that pleased him--watching, with a facetious complacency which he hoped was pardonable, the applause in her face. Alsager broke out; "whom can you find to do HER? I'll work with them--I'll grind it into them. I shall have to get a manager to believe in me.
I shall be old before it's produced. I could do that. But it's even for that I shall have to wait. Will you leave me your copy? There's no comedy in ME! She turned away from him, at this, with a strange and charming laugh and a "Perhaps that will be for you to determine! Nona Vincent was the heroine of the play, and Mrs. Alsager had taken a tremendous fancy to her. Alsager stared an instant and turned faintly red. This was evidently a view that failed to strike her; she didn't, however, treat it as a joke.
I don't see myself doing what she does. She simply tells her love--I should never do that. Alsager reflected, looking down at the fire; she had the air of having half-a-dozen reasons to choose from. But the one she produced was unexpectedly simple; it might even have been prompted by despair at not finding others. Wayworth laughed still louder. I've thought of her as looking like you. They're exactly your play, and have nothing in common with such a life as mine. Alsager went on, "her behaviour was natural for HER, and not only natural, but, it seems to me, thoroughly beautiful and noble.
I can't sufficiently admire the talent and tact with which you make one accept it, and I tell you frankly that it's evident to me there must be a brilliant future before a young man who, at the start, has been capable of such a stroke as that. She has your face, your air, your voice, your motion; she has many elements of your being. They joked a little over this, though it was not in the tone of pleasantry that Wayworth's hostess soon remarked: What a pity, when it's such a magnificent part--such a chance for a clever serious girl!
Nona Vincent is practically your play--it will be open to her to carry it far or to drop it at the first corner. They looked at each other with eyes that, for a lurid moment, saw the worst of the worst; but before they parted they had exchanged vows and confidences that were dedicated wholly to the ideal.
It is not to be supposed, however, that the knowledge that Mrs. Alsager would help him made Wayworth less eager to help himself.
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He did what he could and felt that she, on her side, was doing no less; but at the end of a year he was obliged to recognise that their united effort had mainly produced the fine flower of discouragement. At the end of a year the lustre had, to his own eyes, quite faded from his unappreciated masterpiece, and he found himself writing for a biographical dictionary little lives of celebrities he had never heard of. To be printed, anywhere and anyhow, was a form of glory for a man so unable to be acted, and to be paid, even at encyclopaedic rates, had the consequence of making one resigned and verbose.
He couldn't smuggle style into a dictionary, but he could at least reflect that he had done his best to learn from the drama that it is a gross impertinence almost anywhere.
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He had knocked at the door of every theatre in London, and, at a ruinous expense, had multiplied type-copies of Nona Vincent to replace the neat transcripts that had descended into the managerial abyss. His play was not even declined--no such flattering intimation was given him that it had been read. What the managers would do for Mrs. Alsager concerned him little today; the thing that was relevant was that they would do nothing for HIM.
That charming woman felt humbled to the earth, so little response had she had from the powers on which she counted. The two never talked about the play now, but he tried to show her a still finer friendship, that she might not think he felt she had failed him. He still walked about London with his dreams, but as months succeeded months and he left the year behind him they were dreams not so much of success as of revenge. Success seemed a colourless name for the reward of his patience; something fiercely florid, something sanguinolent was more to the point.
His best consolation however was still in the scenic idea; it was not till now that he discovered how incurably he was in love with it. By the time a vain second year had chafed itself away he cherished his fruitless faculty the more for the obloquy it seemed to suffer. He lived, in his best hours, in a world of subjects and situations; he wrote another play and made it as different from its predecessor as such a very good thing could be.
It might be a very good thing, but when he had committed it to the theatrical limbo indiscriminating fate took no account of the difference. He was at last able to leave England for three or four months; he went to Germany to pay a visit long deferred to his mother and sisters. Shortly before the time he had fixed for his return he received from Mrs. Alsager a telegram consisting of the words: Alsager to judge it lucky this respectable married lady was not there--a relief, however, accompanied with speculative glances at London and the morrow.
Loder, as our young man was aware, meant the new "Renaissance," but though he reached home in the evening it was not to this convenient modern theatre that Wayworth first proceeded. He spent a late hour with Mrs. Alsager, an hour that throbbed with calculation. She told him that Mr. Loder was charming, he had simply taken up the play in its turn; he had hopes of it, moreover, that on the part of a professional pessimist might almost be qualified as ecstatic.
It had been cast, with a margin for objections, and Violet Grey was to do the heroine. She had been capable, while he was away, of a good piece of work at that foggy old playhouse the "Legitimate;" the piece was a clumsy rechauffe, but she at least had been fresh. Wayworth remembered Violet Grey--hadn't he, for two years, on a fond policy of "looking out," kept dipping into the London theatres to pick up prospective interpreters? He had not picked up many as yet, and this young lady at all events had never wriggled in his net. She was pretty and she was odd, but he had never prefigured her as Nona Vincent, nor indeed found himself attracted by what he already felt sufficiently launched in the profession to speak of as her artistic personality.
Alsager was different--she declared that she had been struck not a little by some of her tones. The girl was interesting in the thing at the "Legitimate," and Mr. Loder, who had his eye on her, described her as ambitious and intelligent. She wanted awfully to get on--and some of those ladies were so lazy! Wayworth was sceptical--he had seen Miss Violet Grey, who was terribly itinerant, in a dozen theatres but only in one aspect.
Nona Vincent had a dozen aspects, but only one theatre; yet with what a feverish curiosity the young man promised himself to watch the actress on the morrow!
Talking the matter over with Mrs. Alsager now seemed the very stuff that rehearsal was made of. The near prospect of being acted laid a finger even on the lip of inquiry; he wanted to go on tiptoe till the first night, to make no condition but that they should speak his lines, and he felt that he wouldn't so much as raise an eyebrow at the scene-painter if he should give him an old oak chamber. He became conscious, the next day, that his danger would be other than this, and yet he couldn't have expressed to himself what it would be.
Danger was there, doubtless--danger was everywhere, in the world of art, and still more in the world of commerce; but what he really seemed to catch, for the hour, was the beating of the wings of victory. Nothing could undermine that, since it was victory simply to be acted.
Full text of "Nona Vincent"
It would be victory even to be acted badly; a reflection that didn't prevent him, however, from banishing, in his politic optimism, the word "bad" from his vocabulary. It had no application, in the compromise of practice; it didn't apply even to his play, which he was conscious he had already outlived and as to which he foresaw that, in the coming weeks, frequent alarm would alternate, in his spirit, with frequent esteem. When he went down to the dusky daylit theatre it arched over him like the temple of fame Mr.
Loder, who was as charming as Mrs. Alsager had announced, struck him as the genius of hospitality. The manager began to explain why, for so long, he had given no sign; but that was the last thing that interested Wayworth now, and he could never remember afterwards what reasons Mr. He liked, in the whole business of discussion and preparation, even the things he had thought he should probably dislike, and he revelled in those he had thought he should like.
He watched Miss Violet Grey that evening with eyes that sought to penetrate her possibilities. She certainly had a few; they were qualities of voice and face, qualities perhaps even of intelligence; he sat there at any rate with a fostering, coaxing attention, repeating over to himself as convincingly as he could that she was not common--a circumstance all the more creditable as the part she was playing seemed to him desperately so. He perceived that this was why it pleased the audience; he divined that it was the part they enjoyed rather than the actress.
He had a private panic, wondering how, if they liked THAT form, they could possibly like his. His form had now become quite an ultimate idea to him. By the time the evening was over some of Miss Violet Grey's features, several of the turns of her head, a certain vibration of her voice, had taken their place in the same category. She WAS interesting, she was distinguished; at any rate he had accepted her: But he left the theatre that night without speaking to her-- moved a little even to his own mystification by an odd procrastinating impulse.
On the morrow he was to read his three acts to the company, and then he should have a good deal to say; what he felt for the moment was a vague indisposition to commit himself. Moreover he found a slight confusion of annoyance in the fact that though he had been trying all the evening to look at Nona Vincent in Violet Grey's person, what subsisted in his vision was simply Violet Grey in Nona's. He didn't wish to see the actress so directly, or even so simply as that; and it had been very fatiguing, the effort to focus Nona both through the performer and through the "Legitimate.
Alsager--"She's not a bit like it, but I dare say I can make her do. The whole affair loomed large to him and he magnified it and mapped it out. He enjoyed his occupation of the big, dim, hollow theatre, full of the echoes of "effect" and of a queer smell of gas and success--it all seemed such a passive canvas for his picture.
For the first time in his life he was in command of resources; he was acquainted with the phrase, but had never thought he should know the feeling. He was surprised at what Loder appeared ready to do, though he reminded himself that he must never show it.
He foresaw that there would be two distinct concomitants to the artistic effort of producing a play, one consisting of a great deal of anguish and the other of a great deal of amusement. He looked back upon the reading, afterwards, as the best hour in the business, because it was then that the piece had most struck him as represented.
What came later was the doing of others; but this, with its imperfections and failures, was all his own. The drama lived, at any rate, for that hour, with an intensity that it was promptly to lose in the poverty and patchiness of rehearsal; he could see its life reflected, in a way that was sweet to him, in the stillness of the little semi-circle of attentive and inscrutable, of water-proofed and muddy-booted, actors. Miss Violet Grey was the auditor he had most to say to, and he tried on the spot, across the shabby stage, to let her have the soul of her part.
Her attitude was graceful, but though she appeared to listen with all her faculties her face remained perfectly blank; a fact, however, not discouraging to Wayworth, who liked her better for not being premature. Her companions gave discernible signs of recognising the passages of comedy; yet Wayworth forgave her even then for being inexpressive. She evidently wished before everything else to be simply sure of what it was all about. He was more surprised even than at the revelation of the scale on which Mr.
Loder was ready to proceed by the discovery that some of the actors didn't like their parts, and his heart sank as he asked himself what he could possibly do with them if they were going to be so stupid. This was the first of his disappointments; somehow he had expected every individual to become instantly and gratefully conscious of a rare opportunity, and from the moment such a calculation failed he was at sea, or mindful at any rate that more disappointments would come.
It was impossible to make out what the manager liked or disliked; no judgment, no comment escaped him; his acceptance of the play and his views about the way it should be mounted had apparently converted him into a veiled and shrouded figure. Wayworth was able to grasp the idea that they would all move now in a higher and sharper air than that of compliment and confidence. When he talked with Violet Grey after the reading he gathered that she was really rather crude: This reserve, however, had evidently nothing to do with high pretensions; she had no wish to make him feel that a person of her eminence was superior to easy raptures.
He guessed, after a little, that she was puzzled and even somewhat frightened--to a certain extent she had not understood. Nothing could appeal to him more than the opportunity to clear up her difficulties, in the course of the examination of which he quickly discovered that, so far as she HAD understood, she had understood wrong. If she was crude it was only a reason the more for talking to her; he kept saying to her "Ask me--ask me: He felt more and more that his heroine was the keystone of his arch, for which indeed the actress was very ready to take her.
But when he reminded this young lady of the way the whole thing practically depended on her she was alarmed and even slightly scandalised: She was almost morbidly conscientious, and in theory he liked her for this, though he lost patience three or four times with the things she couldn't do and the things she could. At such times the tears came to her eyes; but they were produced by her own stupidity, she hastened to assure him, not by the way he spoke, which was awfully kind under the circumstances.
Her sincerity made her beautiful, and he wished to heaven and made a point of telling her so that she could sprinkle a little of it over Nona. Once, however, she was so touched and troubled that the sight of it brought the tears for an instant to his own eyes; and it so happened that, turning at this moment, he found himself face to face with Mr. The manager stared, glanced at the actress, who turned in the other direction, and then smiling at Wayworth, exclaimed, with the humour of a man who heard the gallery laugh every night: He was quite aware that it was apparent he was not superficial about Nona, and abundantly determined, into the bargain, that the rehearsal of the piece should not sacrifice a shade of thoroughness to any extrinsic consideration.
Alsager, whom, late in the afternoon, he used often to go and ask for a cup of tea, thanking her in advance for the rest she gave him and telling her how he found that rehearsal as THEY were doing it--it was a caution! Alsager, more and more his good genius and, as he repeatedly assured her, his ministering angel, confirmed him in this superior policy and urged him on to every form of artistic devotion.
She had, naturally, never been more interested than now in his work; she wanted to hear everything about everything. She treated him as heroically fatigued, plied him with luxurious restoratives, made him stretch himself on cushions and rose-leaves. They gossipped more than ever, by her fire, about the artistic life; he confided to her, for instance, all his hopes and fears, all his experiments and anxieties, on the subject of the representative of Nona. She was immensely interested in this young lady and showed it by taking a box again and again she had seen her half-a-dozen times already , to study her capacity through the veil of her present part.
Like Allan Wayworth she found her encouraging only by fits, for she had fine flashes of badness. She was intelligent, but she cried aloud for training, and the training was so absent that the intelligence had only a fraction of its effect. She was like a knife without an edge--good steel that had never been sharpened; she hacked away at her hard dramatic loaf, she couldn't cut it smooth.
There were days when the prospect seemed to him awful. There's no necessity for that. Alsager requested him not to make such cruel fun of her. But she was curious about the girl, wanted to hear of her character, her private situation, how she lived and where, seemed indeed desirous to befriend her.
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Wayworth might not have known much about the private situation of Miss Violet Grey, but, as it happened, he was able, by the time his play had been three weeks in rehearsal, to supply information on such points. She was a charming, exemplary person, educated, cultivated, with highly modern tastes, an excellent musician.
She had lost her parents and was very much alone in the world, her only two relations being a sister, who was married to a civil servant in a highly responsible post in India, and a dear little old-fashioned aunt really a great-aunt with whom she lived at Notting Hill, who wrote children's books and who, it appeared, had once written a Christmas pantomime. It was quite an artistic home--not on the scale of Mrs. Alsager's to compare the smallest things with the greatest! Wayworth went so far as to hint that it would be rather nice and human on Mrs.
Alsager's part to go there--they would take it so kindly if she should call on them. She had acted so often on his hints that he had formed a pleasant habit of expecting it: But this one appeared to fall to the ground, so that he let the subject drop. Alsager, however, went yet once more to the "Legitimate," as he found by her saying to him abruptly, on the morrow: Gentleman's Guide to Beard and Moustache Management. The Altar of the Dead. The Pig and Whistle. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
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Henry James Washington Square. Works Of Henry James: Daisy Miller Mobi Classics. A Little Tour In France. The Portrait of a Lady — Volume 2. The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories. A Life , HarperCollins, Philip Horne ed , Henry James: Fred Kaplan, Henry James: Bell, Henry James and the Past , London: Harvard University Press, Harold Bloom ed , Modern Critical Views: Henry James , Chelsea House Publishers, Roger Gard ed , Henry James: The Critical Heritage , London: A study of the short fiction , New York: Oxford University Press, Ruth Yeazell ed , Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays , Longmans, 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. 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.
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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.