Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Authors I Loathe #1: Henry James

( Boooooooooooooooourns!!!)

Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning but after recently picking up The Ambassadors by Henry James,  it did not take me long to realize that he now ranks as one my least favorite authors. Thus, I have decided to start a new segment on this blog that will hopefully encourage others to no longer feel ashamed to admit their vehement animosity towards any author, especially those who are largely considered part of the literary canon. Call me crazy, but I am under the impression that most people are not truly honest when it comes to their true feelings and opinions regarding certain literary works. They merely conform to the established general consensus in order to avoid a confrontation or be labeled a philistine. The chauvinistic and pervasive cultural elitism is completely biased;  dictating the specific literary works and authors that are considered to be "great literature" whereas everything else should be avoided. Literature is far too multifarious -- spanning many different languages, genres and cultures to be reduced only to a handful of authors and important works. 

The literary form encourages rumination and discourse from a wide variety of perspectives.   It is blasphemous that someone who enjoys reading Twilight or the Shopaholic series should be chastised by some priggish group of pseudo-intellectuals -- literature is far too subjective. There is an endless amount of books to read and authors to discover that one need not always feel pressured to acquiesce perfidiously with the general masses just to avoid a confrontation. Read whatever you love and pay no attention to what others think about your literary tastes. Defend your opinions with well-reasoned arguments and stay true to yourself! If you find Faulkner's work to be incomprehensible drivel, so be it. Life's too short to force yourself to read novels that you find deplorable.

Ok, that's enough of my rambling and it is time to get down to business: Mr. Henry James has successfully managed to become my literary kyrptonite and whose self-indulgent writing style reduces me to explosive fits of rage. James seems to take an excessive amount of pride in his wordiness but the incessant use of run-on sentences with subclauses is an exercise in futility.

Come on James, is this really necessary? There is no need for all of these endless descriptions, metaphors and fancy wordplay -- get to the bloody point already! I'm only 50 or so pages into this novel and already feeling the urge to bang my head against the wall in frustration. His writing is insufferably discursive and this flamboyant style is so aggravating that it has given me head-aches. Not only is the prose ridiculously convoluted but the one-dimensional characters and languid plot surely do not improve matters. So far, James does not seem to deviate from this style and it is doubtful that I will be able to force myself to get through another 400 pages of torture.

A few years ago, I attempted to read The Bostonians but quickly tossed it aside due to my aforementioned criticisms. I struggled to finish A Turn of the Screw along with a bunch of his other short-stories/novellas including Daisy Miller and The Beast in the Jungle. Despite their iconic status and high praise by respected literary critics, these works failed to leave any impression on me whatsoever. I try to avoid using the "p" word but for James, I will make the exception: he is the epitome of PRETENTIOUS.

So, now I turn the question to you: Who are some authors that you find overrated, disagreeable or downright awful? Let me know.


  1. I don't think there are any authors I loathe, though there are some I am reluctant to try a second time. Erewhon by Samuel Butler is considered a classic by some, but it is easily the most boring book I have ever read. And the Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: that I disliked not for its style, but because the author seemed so keen on her historical hypothesis that she derided in advance anyone who showed any scepticism.

    It's too long since I have read any Henry James to remember how I found him. But when I hear of people who 'only read the classics', I always think of what they're missing out on. There are wonderful forgotten books and forgotten authors, successful in their day, and yet no longer read.

  2. Hi Karyn! I haven't read anything by Butler or Tey before (in fact, I have never even heard of them), haha :P

    You make a good point about people limiting themselves to just the "classics" who are missing out on so much great literature out there. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with the literary canon itself (many titles are classics for a reason and worthy of such status) but it gets on my nerves when people falsely embrace certain literary works just to be accepted by their academic peers. Perhaps I am slightly more jaded from being in college English classes where the majority of students tend to be pompous pricks who apparently only read Erasmus and D.H. Lawrence. *shrugs*

    Btw, you have a wonderful blog and I would be curious to know what you think of Henry James if you ever get around to reading any of his works again as part of your Penguin project.

  3. Why thank you, sir! I have only in the last few years gotten over my embarrassment at this sort of confession. I see your trouble with Henry Miller! And I'll raise you a Faulkner. Not so sure I'm up to Gertrude Stein, either, and currently working through The Picture of Dorian Gray and finding it very difficult to appreciate, too. They're certainly out there!

    But the people who fail to admire Hemingway? Crazy. :)

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Julia! The jury is still out on Faulkner but I would read his work in a heartbeat over Henry James. What novels by him left a negative impression on you?

    I have not read anything by Gertrude Stein but I can understand your ambivalence towards Oscar Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray" -- this novel is exceedingly dense. However, I find it difficult not to find his witty charm and articulate philosophical observations about art and the human condition to be most enlightening.

    As far as Papa Hemingway is concerned, let's just say that I found "A Farewell to Arms" to be insufferable tripe and it turned me off his work almost completely. I'm not giving up on him just yet but he better redeem himself soon or else he is going to be entry #2 on this list. :P

  5. Got to agree with you on Henry James. Though I've only read The Turn of the Screw, it was like wading through treacle. I have also had trouble with Dostoyevsky; a third of the way into The Idiot I found it just too dull to continue. I'll give him another chance though; although the story was slower than my granny, at least he could write. Unlike James, who just rambled incoherently. I wonder why people think he's so great? What are we missing?

  6. I'm reading "The Golden Bowl." My advice to anybody who hasn't read it? DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME! I forced myself through the first part of the book. Meaningless sentences, to the point that I had to hold a pencil to the copy to be sure I was following through to the next line.
    And you'd think with all his meandering, he could develop his characters. But noooooooooooo!