ART & LIFE POSTCARD BIOGRAPHIES FROM THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

POSTCARD BIOGRAPHIES FROM THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
From the late 1920s, the National Portrait Gallery invited leading writers to create 70-word biographies, of subjects whose portraits hang in the Gallery, for the backs of postcards. In this 12-week series, we present some of the most exceptional and unexpected of these unknown literary gems

7. H G Wells (1866-1946) on Henry James (1843-1916)

Son of a most ingenious and fashionable theologian. Educated in Europe.The interplay of old world traditions with new is a most frequent and successful theme in his subtle and intricate novels. He achieved humour, great descriptive delicacy (The Golden Bowl) and horror (The Two Magics), but he failed with coarse or primitive feeling. The American Scene, 1906, is a penetrating criticism of his native land. Moved deeply by the earlier stages of the Great War, he sought naturalisation and died an Englishman. H G Wells

It's harder than it looks to pen a mini-biography. Wells found it especially difficult to prune away at his thoughts on the great novelist: he had four attempts. These comments were cut from the final version:

"A subtle experimentalist with the novel. The son of a Unitarian minister whose ingenious theology and precisely elaborate phrasing were the delight of Boston in its great days. Henry James received a European education and the contrast and interplay of European and American traditions furnished the themes of some of his best short stories and novels; Daisy Miller for example and The Ambassadors. He deals most brilliantly with the mental intricacy of highly sophisticated types. His work is burnished with humour. ... He ventured upon the stage and was routed by the gallery ..."

It's a shame that delicious last sentence had to go.

! Portraits, drawings and letters from the "postcard biography" archives are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.

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