is a play by Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....
first staged in London in 1895. The première performance ended with the author being jeered by a section of the audience as he bowed onstage at the end of the play. This failure largely marked the end of James' attempt to conquer the theater. He returned to his narrative
A narrative is a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, "knowing" or "skilled"...
fiction and recorded this memorable pledge in his Notebooks
The Notebooks of Henry James are private notes made by the Anglo-American novelist and critic. Usually the notes are of a professional nature and concern ideas for possible or ongoing fictions, but there are a number of personal notes as well...
on January 23, 1895: "I take up my own old pen again - the pen of all my old unforgettable efforts and sacred struggles. To myself - today - I need say no more. Large and full and high the future still opens. It is now indeed that I may do the work of my life. And I will."
The play is set in 1780s England. Frank Humber proposes marriage to the widow Mrs. Peverel, whose son is tutored by Guy Domville. The tutor Domville is planning to become a Catholic priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...
but learns that he is the last of his family. He starts to believe that it is his duty to marry and carry on the family line. When Mrs. Peverel rejects Humber's proposal, Frank suspects she may be in love with Domville.
Guy is later about to wed Mary Brasier, but she really loves Lieutenant George Round. Once he understands the situation, Guy refuses to go through with the marriage and instead helps Mary and George elope. Domville also realizes that Frank Humber and Mrs. Peverel are in love, and commends them to each other. He will enter the priesthood, as he previously planned.
Themes and criticism
James thought this storyline of scrupulous renunciation involving the Catholic priesthood would succeed with a London audience of the 1890s. However, although the play offered many finely written lines, the whole concept was too remote and unappealing for much of the audience.
The play did manage to run for five weeks but never recovered from the boos of the first night. James cut his losses, returned to his fiction, and eventually consoled himself that his playwriting attempts helped make his narratives more dramatic. Critics have disagreed about whether James' efforts as a playwright actually helped his fiction or were just a waste of time.
Two recent narratives have treated the failure of Guy Domville
: The Master
The Master is a novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín. It is his fifth novel and it was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize and received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year Award and, in France, Le prix du meilleur livre...
(2004) by Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín is a multi-award-winning Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and, most recently, poet.Tóibín is Leonard Milberg Lecturer in Irish Letters at Princeton University in New Jersey and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the...
and Author, Author
Author, Author is a novel by David Lodge, written in 2004. The book is based on the life of the author Henry James. It was released at about the same time as The Master by Colm Tóibín and other books about James, and Lodge wrote The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel about this...
(2004) by David Lodge
David John Lodge CBE, is an English author.In his novels, Lodge often satirises academia in general and the humanities in particular. He was brought up Catholic and has described himself as an "agnostic Catholic". Many of his characters are Catholic and their Catholicism is a major theme...
. It is also a central incident in the standard biography of James by Leon Edel
Joseph Leon Edel was a North American literary critic and biographer. He was the elder brother of North American philosopher Abraham Edel....
, especially the fourth volume, The Treacherous Years: 1895-1901