"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" Henry James as a traveler amply fulfilled his own famous directive to aspiring novelists. Collected here for the first time in two volumes, James's travel books and essays display his distinctive charm and vivacity of style, his sensuous response to the beauty of place, and his penetrating, sometimes sardonically amusing analysis of national characteristics and customs. Observant, alert, imaginative, these works remain unsurpassed guides to the countries they describe, and they form an important part of James's extraordinary achievement in literature.
This volume of Henry James's incomparable travel writings begins with the classic A Little Tour in France, illustrated with Joseph Pennell's exquisite drawings from the edition of 1900. James begins his tour of the French countryside one rainy morning in mid-September of 1882, when he sets off for the city of Tours as a means of exploring the proposition that "though France might be Paris, Paris was by no means France."
From Tours, Balzac's birthplace, James travels to the great chateaux of the Loire Valley, visiting Chambord, Amboise, Chenonceaux, and Blois, where, as you cross the threshold, "you step straight into the sunshine and storm of the French Renaissance?" He admires the view of the quays in Nantes, which shine with "the bright greyness which is the tone of French landscape art"; in Toulouse he meditates on a history "saturated with blood and perfidy"; and in Beaune he savors an atmosphere "like the taste of a sweet russet pear." Dense with literary associations and historical echoes, James's prose brings castles and cathedrals and old walled towns to life. In his glancingly precise visual evocations of terrain and cityscape, he realizes his ambition "to sketch without a palette or brushes."
Henry James loved Italy, "a beautiful dishevelled nymph" to England's "good married matron." The incisive and witty essays in Italian Hours describe memorably happy sojourns in Venice, Rome, and Florence, and excursions to Siena, Assisi, Perugia, Capri, Ravenna, and other Italian cities. "Nowhere do art and life seem so interfused" as in Venice, wrote James in celebration of the splendor of Venetian light and color, air and history. He records his radiant impressions of Roman churches and aqueducts, museums and fountains, and rambles through the gardens of the Villa Borghese in spring, when Rome seems lighted "with an irresistible smile." All these essays are filled with James's intense pleasure in Italian people and places.
This volume concludes with sixteen essays on such varied places as Switzerland, Holland, Rheims, and the Pyrenees, including a remarkable account of the American volunteer ambulance corps in Europe during World War I.