“Without suspense, there can be little pleasure in this world”

[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 6, 1945.]

To Henry James [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 37-39]

[Saranac Lake, c. 20 November 1887]

My dear Henry James,

It may please you to know how our family has been employed. In the silence of the snow the afternoon lamp has lighted an eager fireside group: my mother reading, Fanny, Lloyd, and I devoted listeners;


Henry Edward Spernon Tozer (1864-1938), Old woman reading at the fireside [https://i.pinimg.com]

and the work was really one of the best works I ever heard; and its author is to be praised and honoured; and what do you suppose is the name of it? and have you ever read it yourself? and (I am bound I will get to the bottom of the page before I blow the gaff, if I have to fight it out on this line all summer; for if you have not to turn a leaf, there can be no suspense, the conspectory eye being swift to pick out proper names; and without suspense, there can be little pleasure in this world, to my mind at least) – and, in short, the name of it is

Henry James (1843-1926) [https://s3.amazonaws.com]

Roderick Hudson, if you please.


H. James’s novel, ‘Roderick Hudson’, was first serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, 1875 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]



My dear James, it is very spirited, and very sound, and very noble too. Hudson, Mrs. Hudson, Rowland, O, all first-rate: Rowland a very fine fellow; Hudson as good as he can stick (did you know Hudson? I suspect you did), Mrs. H. his real born mother, a thing rarely managed in fiction. We are all keeping pretty fit and pretty hearty; but this letter is not from me to you, it is from a reader of R.H. to the author of the same, and it says nothing, and has nothing to say, but thank you. We are going to re-read Casamassima as a proper pendant.  


H. James’s novel, ‘The Princess Casamassima’ was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, 1885-1886 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

Sir, I think these two are your best, and care not who knows it.

May I beg you, the next time Roderick is printed off, to go over the sheets of the last few chapters, and strike out ‘immense’ and ‘tremendous’? You have simply dropped them there like your pocket-handkerchief; all you have to do is to pick them up and pouch them, and your room – what do I say? – your cathedral! – will be swept and garnished.


H. James, Roderick Hudson: use of the word ‘immense’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


H. James, Roderick Hudson: use of the word ‘tremendous’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


H. James, Roderick Hudson: use of the word ‘tremendous’ [https://babel.hathitrust.org]


– I am, dear sir, your delighted reader,

Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. – Perhaps it is a pang of causeless honesty, perhaps I hope it will set a value on my praise of Roderick, perhaps it’s a burst of the diabolic, but I must break out with the news that I can’t bear the Portrait of a Lady.


H. James’s novel, ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly, 1880-1881 [https://babel.hathitrust.org]

I read it all, and I wept too; but I can’t stand your having written it; and I beg you will write no more of the like. Infra, sir; Below you; I can’t help it – it may be your favourite work, but in my eyes it’s BELOW YOU to write and me to read.


I thought Roderick was going to be another such at the beginning: and I cannot describe my pleasure as I found it taking bones and blood, and looking out at me with a moved and human countenance, whose lineaments are written in my memory until my last of days.


My wife begs your forgiveness; I believe for her silence.

Fanny Stevenson durante su estancia en Inglaterra.

Fanny Stevenson, 1885 [https://s6.eestatic.com]





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