Observations in The Middle Years!!

“I prefer your flowers, then, to other people’s fruit, and your mistakes to other people’s successes,” said gallant Doctor Hugh. “It’s for your mistakes I admire you.” (James 347)

I choose this passage in response to theme observation because it has a key literary device which always seem to strike me as important pieces of a story. This passage has a metaphor comparing Dencombe’s mistakes to other people’s successes. Not only does this passage teach the important lesson of learning from mistakes but it shows Doctor Hugh’s own observation of the author Dencombe himself through the story.

*this was submitted late in comparison to the due date last week because I added the class after the assignment was given out, from now on assignments will be completed in a timely manner*

The Middle Years

“He thought of the fairytale of science and charmed himself into forgetting that he looked for a magic that was not of this world.” (James 348-349)

This sentence is the one that struck me the most. First of all, because of how poetic it sounds but also for the meaning it holds and the beauty in it. I loved the expression “fairytale of science” in particular. It is an oxymoron yet we can still understand how science could be referred as being a fairytale. Indeed, science can accomplish things that seem impossible, especially at the time when science was still far from being what it is today, the barrier between science and magic sometimes feels very thin.

“The Middle Years” Commonplace Entry- ES

“He uttered a low moan as he breathed the chill of this dark void, so desperately it seemed to represent the completion of a sinister process. The tears filled his mild eyes; something precious had passed away.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years”.  Henry James: Complete Stories: 1829-1898, ed. John Hollander and David Bromwich, The Library of America, 1996, 337

I find the sense of tragic acceptance of this passage particularly interesting because of the way Dencombe’s grieving actions correlate with the closure he is so desperately seeking and the way that the process is described by the narrator as “sinister.” The syntax of the passage reveals his emotions by initially stating how he “uttered a low moan,” almost a sorrowful sigh, and that this represents the acceptance of this loss, more so how desperate he is to have closure. It then escalates to tears when further realization reaches him. Observing Dencombe, we too, experience this deep whirlpool and rush of emotions and in a sense, grieve with him. We are able to also observe this inner battle he is experiencing. This passage is multifaceted in a sense that emotions such as desperation and acceptance are co-existing but are almost at battle with one another.

The Middle Years

“This was the pang that had been sharpest during the last few years—the sense of ebbing time, of shrinking opportunity; and now he felt not so much that his last chance was going as that it was gone indeed.”

Henry James, “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, ed. John Hollander and David Bromwich (New York: The Library of America, 1996), 337.

Dencombe can be seen reflecting on his life within this passage. He seems to feel that his life has hit its peak and is now declining. Does he feel hopeless or is he just becoming more aware of his situation?


“The Middle Years” Commonplace – LM

“‘Why, it has come to pass–it has come to pass! The second chance has been the public’s–the chance to find the point of view, to pick up the pearl!”

“‘Oh, the pearl!’ Dencombe uneasily sighed. A smile as cold as a winter sunset flickered on his drawn lips as he added: ‘The pearl is the unwritten–the pearl is the unalloyed, the rest, the lost!'”

Henry James, “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, ed. John Hollander and David Bromwich (New York: The Library of America, 1996), 353.

I really enjoyed this interaction between Doctor Hugh and Dencombe. The first spoken dialogue comes from Doctor Hugh, who argues that the second chance Dencombe yearns for exists within his work. It’s the reader who discovers the beauty in his work. Dencombe, however, feels that because he never wrote the story in his exact perfect vision, it can never truly be discovered. It’s an interesting conversation between an artist and his audience. It calls to mind the relationship artists have with their work, and how future generations come to appreciate the works that do exist.


“The Middle Years” Commonplace

“That identity was ineffaceable now, and all the more that he was disappointed, disgusted. He had been rash, been stupid, had gone out too soon, stayed out too long.”

Henry James, “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, ed. John Hollander and David Bromwich (New York: The Library of America, 1996), pg 345

Why is the “identity” something that he’s so worried about being memorized/not forgotten? What caused this to happen? Why is it a problem that he stayed out too long?

“The Middle Years” Common Place

Doctor Hugh was an ardent physiologist, saturated with the spirit of the age–in other words he had just taken his degree; but he was independent and various, he talked like a man who would have preferred to love literature best.

Henry James, “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, ed. John Hollander and David Bromwich (New York: The Library of America, 1996), 342.

Interesting word choice “saturated with the spirit of age”, age is not usually associated with spirit/liveliness. Clarification in next part of sentence conveys he is young, “just taken his degree”. Long sentence, with dash and semicolon, all explaining Doctor Hugh’s character. “Preferred to love literature best” interesting and confusing characterization– enthusiasm and wistfulness? He likes the idea of literature more than he actually likes literature?

Henry James, The Middle Years

“He was tired enough when he reached it, and for a moment he was disappointed; he was better, of course, but better, after all, than what? He should never again, as at one or two great moments of the past, be better than himself.”

Henry James, The Middle Years, (Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, 335-55).

Why is he, Dencombe, tired and disappointed? Was he injured in some way and why does he believe he will never be the better version of himself in the past?