Tuesday Terror! The Friends of the Friends by Henry James

Nameless dread…

 

First published in London in 1896 as The Way It Came, Henry James changed the title in 1909 when the story was re-published in New York. It seemed about time that Henry James should make his first appearance, so here goes for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

The Friends of the Friends by Henry James

 

Henry James by John Singer Sargent
Henry James by John Singer Sargent

An unnamed person is going through the papers of a recently deceased female unnamed person, when he (or possibly she) comes across a narrative written by the deceased UP about herself and two other unnamed persons, one male, one female. Still with me? Good…

The narrator of the narrative (i.e., the dead female UP), whom we will call the narrator, tells us first of the woman, whom we will call the woman. The woman’s claim to fame in society is that she saw an apparition of her father at the exact time that he died…

She rushed to him with a bewildered cry, “Papa, what is it?” but this was followed by an exhibition of still livelier feeling when on her movement he simply vanished, leaving the custodian and her relations, who were at her heels, to gather round her in dismay.

The narrator then meets a man (whom we will call the man) who by an astonishing coincidence had seen the apparition of his mother at the time she died. Immediately the narrator feels these two people should meet, and both show an interest in meeting the other. But for a variety of reasons, every time a meeting is planned something causes it to fall through…

…the accidents continued for years and became, for me and for others, a subject of hilarity with either party. They were droll enough at first; then they grew rather a bore.

The man is often called away on business, while the woman, separated from her abusive husband, lives a retired life in suburban Richmond. She rarely attends other people’s parties, but our narrator frequently attends hers…

…which consisted of her cousin, a cup of tea and the view. The tea was good; but the view was familiar, though perhaps not, like the cousin – a disagreeable old maid who had been of the group at the museum and with whom she now lived – offensively so.

Time passes, and still the two do not meet. After some years, the narrator and the man become engaged to be married, and this makes the narrator even more determined that her friend and her husband-to-be should meet. One afternoon, she arranges for them both to come to her house for tea but, suddenly thinking that their common experience (of seeing the apparitions, remember?) might attract them to each other, in a fit of jealousy, she tells the man she won’t be at home and not to come until dinner time. The woman still comes and waits for an hour for the man to show up, but of course he doesn’t.

victorian

That evening, the narrator admits to the man what she did, and agrees to go and apologise to the woman the following day. But when she gets to the woman’s house, she is met with some shocking news…

“At home, mum? She has left home for ever.”

I was extraordinarily startled by this announcement of the elderly parlour-maid. “She has gone away?”

“She’s dead, mum, please.” Then as I gasped at the horrible word: “She died last night.”

The narrator rushes to the man’s chambers to tell him this news, and to regret that they will now never meet. But the man tells her with great delight that the woman turned up in his chambers the previous evening. Although the woman didn’t speak, the man is convinced she was alive. However, the narrator is equally convinced she must have been dead or dying at the time. But either way, the real question is…

“What on earth did she come for?” He had now had a minute to think—to recover himself and judge of effects, so that if it was still with excited eyes he spoke he showed a conscious redness and made an inconsequent attempt to smile away the gravity of his words.

“She came just to see me. She came—after what had passed at your house—so that we should, after all, at last meet. The impulse seemed to me exquisite, and that was the way I took it.”

And from that point on she sees a change in the man, and feels him drawing away from her…

* * * * * * *

If you’d like to know how the story continues, here’s a link…

This isn’t really a scary story – it doesn’t set out to be – but it is unsettling. Very well written, the early passages are full of quite wickedly humorous jibes at society but the tone gradually becomes more serious as it goes on. Our narrator starts out sounding quite reliable but this changes when she starts to feel jealous – a feeling for which there is initially no foundation since the man and woman haven’t even met. So when her jealousy increases following the death of her friend, it’s unclear to the reader as to whether she has real cause for her feelings. Either there is something supernatural going on, or the narrator is losing her grip on commonsense, at least, if not sanity – whichever version the reader chooses to believe produces its own atmosphere of unease.

No gore, no clanking chains – instead, a story that achieves its disturbing effect quietly and gradually. A good one!

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

49 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Friends of the Friends by Henry James

  1. Oh, those ‘quiet buildup’ stories can pack the most punch, FictionFan! It sounds as though this is definitely one of those stories. And James certainly did have a solid writing style. Sounds like a nicely unsettling read.

    • Yes, I prefer this kind of story to the “in-your-face” horror stories, which are more likely to either make me laugh or disgust me than chill me. This one was really well-crafted, I thought, from the way it started out quite amusingly and then gradually shifted the tone…

  2. This seems most intriguing and I have to say that I do want to know what happens next so I will be following up on this one. I like a good psycological mystery thing where you can’t always trust the narrator. Sounds pretty creepy, to me 🙂

  3. Am going to have to read this one! I really enjoy stories by unreliable narrators even though it stresses me out to write them. I worry folks will think the narrative inconsistencies are my “mistake” until they sort out that the narrator can’t be trusted. Am working on this. 😛

    • I think what’s clever about this one is either version is consistent with the facts – it’s in the interpretation that the doubt creeps in. Definitely worth reading both as a story and to see how cleverly he shifted the tone…

  4. Ah, Henry James! An author I actually now. I think I’m proud of myself the sudden.

    Now it’s an interest: all the nameless people. Sometimes, I think, unsettling stories are better than scary ones. *tries to remember either a scary or unsettling one* Aha! Lady Jessica is a bit unsettling, so that counts, I think.

    The 5th Wave! You’ve started. And the Tuesday Terror font is awesome.

  5. “No gore, no clanking chains – instead, a story that achieves its disturbing effect quietly and gradually.”

    Those are the most shivery of all. Great review, FF.

    • Thanks, Cleo! 😀 Yes, the clanking chain type story is more likely to give me the giggles than the shivers unless it’s incredibly well done. This one sort of crept up on me when I wasn’t looking – at first it looked as if it was going to be more humorous than creepy, but it left me wondering….

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever read a James short story – after ploughing through the novels for “Eng. Lit.” I lost the will to read any more!

    • Nor me. I don’t even think I’ve read any of the novels, but I was impressed by this one. However, no room on the TBR for any more at the moment – except maybe The Turn of the Screw sometime…

  7. Not familiar with this James work. Very interesting…. seems to have some of the characteristics of his work (jibes, societal commentary, etc.), yet appears to be a departure, too. Fascinating review.

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