REWRITING AFTERWARD–A TEST FROM HENRY JAMES. Terry Teachout gives an example of rewriting after publication by Henry James.

Here is a sentence from the 1881 version of THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY: “”His kiss was like a flash of lightning; when it was dark again she was free.”

Here is the sentence as James changed it some 25 years later: “His kiss was like white lightning, a flash that spread, and spread again, and stayed; and it was extraordinarily as if, while she took it, she felt each thing in his hard manhood that had least pleased her, each aggressive fact of his face, his figure, his presence, justified of its intense identity and made one with this act of possession. So had she heard of those wrecked and under water following a train of images before they sink. But when darkness returned she was free.”

I read the sentences to Mary Jane. THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY is one of her favorite books. She commented that many people think that when James turned to dictating his work late in his career, it was bad for his writing. Teachout says, “I… prefer the richer textures of the second version of “The Portrait of a Lady,” which hints at a wider realm of experience that was inaccessible to the younger James.” For myself, I much prefer the first version, partly because I don’t think that the lengthy analysis of the revised sentence fits with my understanding of the character, partly because the lengthy analysis is inconsistent with the experience of an emotion, and partly because the last century of romance writing casts a shadow over the prose.

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