Henry James and Whitsuntide

I believe Henry James somewhere said that the supreme virtue of the novel is its truth of detail, its air of reality, its solidity of specification.

To the best of your knowledge has the following lack of truth and solidity ever been raised within the realm of Jamesian scholars?

Whitsuntide in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’

Henry James has Edward Rosier arriving in Rome on 1st of November 1876 (Chapter 36), where he discusses his love for Pansy with Madame Merle. Concurrently, James has Ralph Touchett arriving in Rome for that winter (1876/1877) and leaving Rome at the end of February 1877 (Chapter 48) with Henrietta Stackpole and Caspar Goodwood escorting him back to England to eventually die in May 1877.

James says Ralph’s funeral was on a day ‘on one of the last of the treacherous May-time’ (Chapter 55). Let us assume it was between Monday 28th and Wednesday 30th. Earlier would have been a weekend and James infers it is a week day. It could have been Friday 25th but would this have qualified as ‘one of the last’? I don’t think so. It could have been Thursday 31st but, in that case, surely James would have said ‘THE last day of treacherous May-time’. So let us settle on Tuesday 29th May as a reasonable candidate for Ralph Touchett’s funeral.

‘About a week later’ (say the week commencing Monday 4th June) James tells us that Lord Warburton visits Gardencourt and speaks with Isabel. He tells her that his sisters are visiting at Whitsuntide and asks her to visit them (as she has promised in the past) but Isabel declines. However, in 1877 Whit Sunday was on Sunday 20th May (seven weeks after Easter Sunday which was on the 1st of April in 1877) over a week before Ralph was even buried! Therefore, Lord Warburton’s suggestion for Isabel to visit at Whitsuntide was complete and utter tosh! Considering it was only three years after 1877 when James had ‘Portrait’ published this seems to be a clumsy error for him to have made. For Warburton’s invitation to have made any sort of sense at all Ralph would have had to have been buried prior to Sunday 13th May—hardly ‘…one of the last of the treacherous May-time.’

I’ll be very interested in your own comments and whether or not this faux pas has been considered before.

With best wishes and regards,

Henrietta Stackpole.

PS I was reminded to put this to the list by my reading of ‘Mrs Osmond’, John Banville’s recently published sequel to ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ which falls into the error of copying Mr James on this matter. My own earlier sequel (see below) avoids the issue.

Published in ebook form in 2015, ‘A Kind Of Justice’, my sequel to ‘The Portrait Of A Lady’ and in paperback in October 2017. Available from Amazon or the Kindle Store.