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A Ghostly Tale


One recent rainy day in the Picture Collection of Mid-Manhattan Library, just shuffling through a fistful of photos, we happened upon this–uh, SIGNED photo of Henry James. Now we are loathe to confess it, but Mr. James is one of those rare writers of whom we have developed a pronounced preference for the Big Screen versions of his works over the textual alternatives. Who could forget Helena Bonham Carter distractedly roaming the dark streets of Venice in Wings of the Dove? Or Christopher Reeve tripping over the love that dare not speak its name in The Bostonians? Or Cherry Jones’ tour de force as The Heiress? (Okay, it was on the stage, but still…) Despite our lowbrow taste for Mr. James served up as entertainment (well, Colm Toibin’s masterful fiction about James wasn’t exactly an endorsement of Mr. James’ personal character), we were pleased to think we might turn the Berg Collection green with envy–until we examined the signature a little more closely and found ourselves terrified. The pen that signed the portrait scrawled the date: Jan. 3, 1918. Yet the hand that penned the novels last moved in this world on Feb. 28, 1916. So who IS this Miss Jordan, who prompted Mr. James to journey so far from that undiscovered country merely to send her his regards? We also express our admiration for the skill of the photographer, H. Walter Barnett, who has caught perfectly that otherworldly look about the eyes. (Perhaps the stroke of Mr. James' pen was cramped and the date was actually Jan. 3, 1908? Mind you, I only conjecture....)


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