The Awkward Age

The Awkward Age

by Henry James

Making her debut in London society, Nanda Brookenham is being groomed for the marriage market.

In The Awkward Age (1899), Henry James explores the English character, and the clash between old and new money with a light and subtly ironic touch to create a devastating critique of society and its machinations.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Classics
  • Rating: 3.65
  • Pages: 352
  • Publish Date: May 28th 1987 by Penguin Classics
  • Isbn10: 0140432973
  • Isbn13: 9780140432978

What People Think about "The Awkward Age"

In the previous Henry James book I read, the main character, Christopher Newman, visited the Louvre, and being a bit overwhelmed by the profusion of pictures, he simply sat on a bench in front of one of them for the whole afternoon. Reading a Henry James novel is like viewing such a painting section by section; the author forces us to pause and pay attention to the details. We have to guess the significance of this or that element, to follow the play of light and shadow, to notice the figure that is turned towards us, the other that is turned away, and the one that might represent the artist inserted in his own work (in this book, I recognised strong similarities between one of the main characters and James himself). Clean-shaven, slightly bald, with unlighted grey eyes and a mouth that gave the impression of not working easily, he suggested a stippled drawing by an inferior master Lord Petherton: a man of five-and-thirty, whose robust but symmetrical proportions gave to his dark blue double-breasted coat an air of tightness that just failed of compromising his tailor, had for his main facial sign a certain pleasant brutality, the effect partly of a bold handsome parade of carnivorous teeth, partly of an expression of nose suggesting that this feature had paid a little, in the heat of youth, for some aggression at the time admired and even publicly commemorated Mr. Mitchett: had so little intrinsic appearance that an observer would have felt indebted for help in placing him to the rare prominence of his colorless eyes...Dressed on the other hand not as gentlemen dress in London, he excited attention by the exhibition of garments that had nothing in common save the violence and the independence of their pattern...There was comedy therefore in the form of his pot-hat and the color of his spotted shirt, in the systematic disagreement, above all, of his coat, waistcoat and trousers. In the course of the novel, Henry James refers to an unknown spectator/observer who in turn watches the characters and catches the expressions that flit across their faces: Our spectator would probably have found too much earnestness in her face to be sure if there was also candour... We become that unknown spectator when we read the book just as we become spectators at Veronese's banquet while viewing his painting; we notice each and every expression that the artist has caught. If we look at the left hand corner again, we see that the figures in the painting are watching each other.

Mrs. Brookenham, referred to in the novel as Mrs. Brook, is an aging beauty. Mrs. Brook is friends with the Duchess who has a daughter named Aggie. The real crux comes when it becomes clear that Mrs. Brook is unsure if she will keep the hapless Vanderbank for herself or encourage him to marry her daughter. Lord Petherton, a man of five-and-thirty, whose robust but symmetrical proportions gave to his dark blue double-breasted coat an air of tightness that just failed of compromising his tailor, had for his man facial sign a certain pleasant brutality, the effect partly of a bold, handsome paracle of carnivorous teeth, partly of an expression of nose suggesting that this feature had paid a little, in the heat of youth, for some aggression at the time admired and even publicly commemorated. He takes a liking to Vanderbank, instantly does not trust Mrs. Brooks, and becomes enamored with Nanda. Mr. Longdon and Nanda, as part of an allusion to the title of this novel, are at awkward ages for consummating a relationship. Longdon when he was in society had a bit of a crush on the grandmother and seeing Nanda sends the blood coursing faster through his veins. Mr. Longdon makes it clear that he will settle a vast fortune on Nanda if Mr. Vanderbank will consent to marry her. Nanda has a brother named Harold, a neer do well that actually provides a bit of comedy in the novel. Mr. Cashmore, youd have to be wealthy with a name like that, does give Harold some money, but then threatens to tell his mother. At times it is hard to follow, but the deeper I delved into the novel I was able to make the adjustments to keep up with the acerbic sabre slashes and the double meanings that hung heavy on every conversation. Henry James was recovering from the shock of failing as a playwright when he wrote The Awkward Age. He had taken up plays after the disappointing sales of his novel The Tragic Muse. James has a well deserved reputation of leaving his characters and readers distraught and unhappy at the conclusion of his novels. In the case of The Awkward Age things did not work out the way one would hope.

Henry James loosens the corset of convention in a comedy of ambiguous desires and ambitions.

I couldn't help reading this in light of what a contemporary therapist would make of it all, it's such a perfect presentation, in the guise of a drawing-room/countryhouse novel of manners, of what happens when children are forced to maturity too early, and find themselves relied on and betrayed by those they should most trust to be protecting and launching them into adult life. The story here feels at first like one that's entirely of its time -- it's just before the turn of the 20th century; London manners and mores are in flux, and the problem is how, in a "fast" circle of friends, a mother can bring her unmarried daughter into the drawing room without expurgating the talk.

This time it's a novel by Henry James. This book of manners at the end of the the 19th century in London isn't something I'd recommend to anyone who isn't already familiar with Henry James.

The plotting, dialog, and scenes utilized in the novel I think are reflective of James's theatrical experiences, and I frankly don't know that it really helps the novel in the long run.

I am always amazed how Henry James has an effect on me after I have read one of his stories & this one sure left me feeling quite sad & in awe of his ability to create a story with characters so unique to the times he writes. This coming of age written in Harper's Weekly in 1898-1899 about 2 young girls, Nanda & Aggie, where placement in society is the focus of their mothers.

It is a work of prose carefully crafted to read much like a play-script; it has very little narratorial voice and concerns itself mostly with dialogue.

His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allowed him to explore the phenomena of consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting.