Jimpy’s Page

Hi

I’m Henrietta’s editor-agent. I first came across the doughty Miss Stackpole through reading Henry James’s famous and well-regarded novel, The Portrait of a Lady. I became instantly fascinated by Henrietta. So much so that I began to wonder if Mr James had meant the portrait to be about Miss Stackpole and not Miss Isabel Archer.

What I am about to write may upset a faction or two of those learned academics who study, in great depth, the works of Henry James. Certainly Henrietta Stackpole’s sequel to the Portrait, A Kind of Justice, will confound the world of Academe by the transportation of Miss Isabel Archer Osmond onto the pages of a Victorian Sensation novel.

Henry James seems ambivalent about Henrietta. In his preface to his amended version he refers to her as ‘ so broken a reed (from her slightness of cohesion)’ and as a wheel or body to the coach, ‘or is for a moment accommodated with a seat inside’. He says she is ‘of the light ficelle‘ – a thin string perhaps – rather than a trivial stage trick. Contradicting himself he continues this theme by noting that she can run beside the coach until she is visibly out of breath and will never board it; she will always ‘…tread the dusty road’ and be a fishwife accompanying the royal coach into Paris at the start of the French Revolution. He conceded that he will be asked to explain why he has allowed Henrietta ‘…so almost inexplicably to pervade’.  Eventually he resolves the paradox by explaining that she is ‘…only an excess of my zeal’ and that to avoid ‘thinness’ in his work he cultivates the lively. ‘Henrietta must have been at that time part of my wonderful notion of the lively.’

In the book itself he has this light ficelle, looking after her widowed sister and family from her own income; he has her as a role model for the undirected Isabel (a role Isabel never lives up to during The Portrait I might say); he has her showing more great humanity when she offers and proceeds to nurse the dying Ralph Touchett on his way back to England and as well as referring to her as a ‘celebrated authoress’ Mr James has Ralph Touchett bequeathing to her his valuable library ‘for services to literature’, thus making her a wealthy woman. All along he has Henrietta as a very modern woman with strength of mind and purpose. Undoubtedly Isabel is the subject of the book – the portrait, but Henrietta is no mere carriage wheel, no chaser on a dusty road, no fishwife, no weak twine – not even a stage trick; she is the glue which binds several flaky characters and situations together. James says his novel has no plot – no story – it is an ‘ado’ – an ado about Isabel Archer. Without Henrietta I suspect it would vie with Shakespeare for the use of his title ‘about nothing’.

I think Mr James was as fascinated as I by Henrietta Stackpole and found it impossible to control her thoughts and actions whenever she stole into his book. He betrays his secret love for her by the amount of preface space he grants her and the excuse he makes for her pervasiveness and super-abundance in his writing. I wonder he never wrote a novel about the gritty, determined and utilitarian Miss Stackpole – perhaps she was just a little too energetic and interesting for his taste.

NOW Henrietta has published three books and the fourth is close to completion of its first draft (April 2017) so is due for publication this summer.