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martes, abril 15, 2008

Henry James And Florentino Ariza

Henry James (by John Singer Sargeant)(1913)

Today's Writers' Almanac marks Henry James's birthday:
It's the birthday of the novelist Henry James, (books by this author) born in New York City (1843). His first memory was an image of a monument to Napoleon as his family traveled by carriage through Paris, and though he was an American, he always loved Europe and spent most of his life living there.

At some point in his childhood, he was injured, possibly in a fire. He never said much about it to his friends, except that the injury was "horrid," but some scholars have suggested that perhaps he was scarred in some way that would explain why he never had a single love affair with anyone. As far as we know, he died without ever having even received a romantic kiss.

But he wrote almost 10 million words of fiction and nonfiction, including Daisy Miller (1878), Washington Square (1880), and The Portrait of a Lady (1881).
The proposed connection between James's assumed disfigurement and his utter lack of physical love was one I wasn't aware of before. Maybe I wasn't paying attention. Anyway, this information made little sense to me. Was a monastic vow required to be prolific? Was James's ability so cleverly to reveal the relationships between his characters facilitated by his insistence on being only a spectator? If Duke Ellington said, "Music is my mistress," maybe James's sole and demanding mistress was his writing. What shame or dread or idea could hold this so fiercely in place?

This line of thinking led me to Florentino Ariza, one of the main characters in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Florentino Ariza, you might remember, pines for more than 50 years for Fermina Daza, who rejected him after a long and frustrating courtship to marry her husband. It's not until the husband dies after falling off a ladder that Ariza reappears in Daza's life. Originally, as a youth, Ariza insists that he will remain a virgin until he manages to be united with Daza. But, because he's human and because of the pain, this oath is doomed to failure: he has 622 affairs ostensibly to mitigate the pain of his separation but insists that he is saving his true love for Daza. Significantly, Ariza does not write 10 million words. He and Daza end up together on a ship, under the yellow and black flag of cholera, isolated from the world.

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