Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Henry James in Scotland


So here I am in Scotland, in search of the tweeds that inspired Coco Chanel (don't want to give the game away, but she was a frequent visitor north of the border). Anyway, it turns out that Henry James was a guest at Tillypronie, the house where I am staying, and as an ardent fan of his, I feel tremendously excited about this. There's something beguiling in the unlikeliness of the coincidence; of James being on top of a mountain in Scotland, and me being here at all. Of course, his description of Tillypronie is far better than mine would ever be, as you'll see in the relevant extract from the letter he wrote to his sister on September 15th 1878:

"Behold me in Scotland and very well pleased to be here. It is a beautiful part of the country - the so-called Deeside - the mountains of Aberdeenshire - the region of Balmoral and Braemar. This supremely comfortable house - lying deep among the brown and purple moors - has the honor, I believe, of being the highest placed laird’s house in Scotland. I wish that you might contemplate the glorious view of sweeping hills and gleaming lochs that lies forever before the windows. I have been here for four or five days and I feel that I have done a very good thing in coming to Scotland. Once you get the hang of it, and apprehend the type, it is a most beautiful and admirable little country - fit to make up a trio with Italy and Greece.

But don’t envy me too much; for the British country-house has at moments, for a cosmopolitanized American, an insuperable flatness. On the other hand, to do it justice, there is no doubt of its being one of the ripest fruits of time - and here in Scotland, where you get the conveniences of Mayfair dove-tailed into the last romanticism of nature - of the highest results of civilization."

Unlike James, I have not come across any insuperable flatness -- indeed, the hills are so high that I find myself admiring the view on a regular basis (and no flatness inside the house, either, but a lot of very good chocolate cake and scones). If anyone is in the area, and wants to see the beautiful gardens, they are open for charity this Sunday afternoon. Apparently there will be homemade cake and teas, too.

16 comments:

enid said...

You are such an inspiration and your blog is amazing - now it's James - you have given me so much reading pleasure. I will take out my James's now ( Which I last read at university ) and reread them. Thanks for the wonderful blog and I hope you continue enjoying the hills of Scotland. Which James should I read first is now my problem.

Cornflower said...

The food there ought to be good, given the famous Lady Clark of Tillypronie.
You are in beautiful country, so do enjoy it and come away refreshed and restored!

kairu said...

Sounds enchanting. I will think of you and your tweeds amongst the "sweeping hills and gleaming lochs."

I haven't read much James since my high school days, but I remember a sneaking fondness for What Maisie Knew. There is also The Turn of the Screw, which I first saw as a chilling, electrifying stage adaptation at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival some fourteen years ago (the year I discovered Tom Stoppard when I saw Arcadia for the first time).

oxford-reader said...

You do go to some wonderful places, Justine. Thank you for posting that wonderful letter - I do love James's style, even if he did go a bit overboard in later years! I love the picture you've posted, the house looks so effortlessly elegant.

I think it might be time to revist James - I did my undergrad dissertation on him and Edith Wharton, and wrote a long essay on the biographical novels about him during my MA. Funnily enough I was thinking I should read a 'classic' as I'd just finished my current book, thanks for making up my mind for me!

Justine Picardie said...

What an interesting subject(s) for dissertation and MA. I thought Colm Toibin's novel about Henry James was wonderful; also enjoyed David Lodge's, particularly the bits about George du Maurier. It must have been so annoying for James to see 'Trilby' turn into an international bestseller; all very well being encouraging to your best friend, but then to be totally eclipsed by him in sales and success...
Cornflower: I'm going to look through Lady Clark's cookbook, and find a good recipe to post here.
And Enid and Kairu: perhaps you could swap notes here on which James to read next?
Meanwhile, I am going to write my Sunday Telegraph column. About boots. Anyone got any thoughts on good boots? In books and elsewhere...

oxford-reader said...

Those were the very two books I wrote about! I'm quite sure I could have gone on for longer than I did - they are both so full, and fit together well as they overlap slightly.
As for boots, well it's always struck me that if Lizzie Bennett lived in modern times, she'd wear good, solid (but fashionable) boots, whereas her younger sisters would be killing themselves in the highest stilletoes they could find!

teabird said...

I love Henry James! Thank you for telling us about being where he was, especially since I rarely think of him in such a bucolic setting! I do wish I could go there Sunday for the tea and scones.

It's been too long since I reread any of his novels. Maybe I'll start with The Bostonians...

kairu said...

I want to read The Bostonians; I have the film but haven't watched yet.

As for boots, I think of Elizabeth Bennet walking across the fields to visit Jane when the latter fell ill on her visit to Netherfield, winding up at the house with her hem splashed with mud...and I think of Anne Elliott, left behind in the rain because her boots are much the thickest. (In the cool evenings as we have now, I look forward to the first chilly day, when I can bring out my sturdy boots again, the fleece-lined rubber ones or the knee-high leather ones that keep the sharp wind at bay...).

Justine Picardie said...

I am wearing borrowed green wellies -- knee high, studded soles (very practical to avoid slipping on the muddy hill), and comfortably ancient.

kairu said...

I was just reading my surprisingly slim September Vogue US (for once it actually fit in my mailbox) and there was an article about Gela Tayler (of Juicy Couture) and her English country home. You know how Juicy is all bright colors and logos? She talks about trying to paint her Hunter wellies different colors or something, and finally conceding that they should just be the original green.

Justine Picardie said...

Just read the piece in US Vogue. Am now feeling the need for brogues.

kirkmc said...

If you're a Henry James fan, you might want to check out my new blog, Reading Henry James:

http://www.readinghenryjames.com

kevinhil123 said...

scotland........that's a beauuuuutiful country.. i just fall in love whenever any pic of the country greenery.

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S.E.B & J.A.D. said...

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I always wanted to be there. Scotland has to many beautiful landscapes and its characteristics are simple awesome. I would die to be there at the end of this year.