Through A Glass Darkly ~ Looking Out With Henry James’ Eyes?


Faithful followers of this blog will know that my home town of Much Wenlock was host to writer Henry James on three occasions. He came as guest of local worthies, the Milnes Gaskells who owned both the Prior’s House (which they called The Abbey) and  Wenlock Priory ruins.

Adjoining the house is a beautiful ruin, part of the walls and windows and bases of the piers of the magnificent church administered by the predecessor of your host, the abbot. These relics are very desultory, but they are still abundant and testify to the great scale and the stately beauty of the abbey. You may lie upon the grass at the base of an ivied fragment and measure the great girth of the great stumps of the central columns, half smothered in soft creepers, and think how strange it is in that in this quiet hollow, in the midst of lonely hills, so exquisite and so elaborate a work of art should have arisen.

Henry James Portraits of Places

I imagine the Priory remains were more romantically ruinous in James’s time, lacking the custodial tidiness of English Heritage, whose property it now is. Those lofty Corsican pines in the background would have been saplings back in his day. All the same, at least once during his visits, the writer must have stood where I was standing when I took this photo – gazing through the old glass panes of The Abbey’s Great Hall, where, in the 1500s, the Prior of Wenlock did his most  lavish entertaining.

Local legend has it that James was working on his novella The Turn of the Screw  during one of his visits.  We know from his accounts in Portraits of  Places that he was struck by the antiquity of the place, and much interested in its ghost and tales of haunting that drove the household staff to spend the night in their homes. and not under The Abbey roof.

There’s more about Henry James and Wenlock in my earlier post When Henry James Came To Wenlock

By now you may be wondering how come I’m looking out of the Prior’s window. The Abbey is still privately owned, now the home of artist Louis de Wet. Last summer we were treated to a private tour by Gabriella de Wet : Going Behind The Scenes in Wenlock Abbey. There are more of Henry James’ descriptions in that post.

And now please head over to Lost in Translation where this week’s theme is windows. As you can see, my interpretation is somewhat oblique. Paula, though, presents us with some very unusual windows.

Black & White Sunday

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The Abbey, Much Wenlock, once the Prior’s Lodging. It boasts a host of windows:

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20 thoughts on “Through A Glass Darkly ~ Looking Out With Henry James’ Eyes?

  1. I sometimes wonder what , if anything, will be left of ”our” time in a 1000 years?
    I suspect much of it will simply have fallen to dust and will eventually be erased from memory.

    We are a funny lot, trying to hold on to the past in one hand while blithely wrecking everything around us with the other. Humans … a most odd species.

    Lovely post , Tish.

  2. Henry James is one of my favourite classics and cool tone is one of my favourite black and white photography presets/filters. Now, how can my cellar windows compete with the abbey’s 😀 I will check out your links tomorrow, Tish. It’s a very busy evening here with our elections. Thank you, honey.

  3. Magnificent building! I read ‘Turn of the Screw’ long ago and was never quite sure how I felt about it. Perhaps a re-read is in order.

      1. I’ve just found my copy — with a ticket from Watford Junction to Birmingham New Street tucked inside. That dates my last reading to 1992-93!

      2. It was lovely. My books are full of railway tickets and boarding passes. I’d like to think that in the distant future the archaeology of my life could be thus excavated.

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