Henry James, “The Given Case” (1898)

Piet Mondrian’s ‘Trafalgar Square (1939-43) at MoMA. (© FlaglerLive)

Mrs. Despard is married to a colonel off in India or somewhere. Miss Hamer is engaged to a Mr. Grove-Steward off in India or somewhere. Barton Reeve is running after Mrs. Despard. Philip Mackern is running after Miss Hamer. Both men whose women are being prowled about return from their Indias. Mrs. Despard will reject Barton reeve out of loyalty to her husband (“What I may feel for him–what I may feel for myself–has nothing to do with it”), however horrid he is to her. The final scene between Mrs. Despard and Reeve is powerful for its latent violence. Miss Hamer will drop her fiance for Mackern in a scene of feelings “so divine a thing that lips and hands were gross to deal with it.” A study in symmetry, otherwise too often marred by Henry’s arid rainforest style. Example:

“I dare say my predicament makes me a shocking bore,” Reeve says. I dare say it kind of does.

Collier’s Weekly, December 1898-January 1899