The Point of View, by Henry James


From Miss Aurora Church in New York to Miss Whiteside in Paris

January 1881.

I told you (after we landed) about my agreement with mamma — that I was to have my liberty for three months and that if at the end of this time I shouldn’t have made a good use of it I was to give it back to her. Well, the time’s up today, and I’m very much afraid I haven’t made a good use of it. In fact I haven’t made any use of it at all — I haven’t got married, for that’s what mamma meant by our little bargain. She has been trying to marry me in Europe for years, without a dot, and as she has never (to the best of my knowledge) even come near it, she thought at last that if she were to leave it to me I might possibly do better. I couldn’t certainly do worse. Well, my dear, I’ve done very badly — that is I haven’t done at all. I haven’t even tried. I had an idea that the coup in question came of itself over here; but it hasn’t come to me. I won’t say I’m disappointed, for I haven’t on the whole seen any one I should like to marry. When you marry people in these parts they expect you to love them, and I haven’t seen any one I should like to love. I don’t know what the reason is, but they’re none of them what I’ve thought of. It may be that I’ve thought of the impossible; and yet I’ve seen people in Europe whom I should have liked to marry. It’s true they were almost always married to some one else. What I am disappointed in is simply having to give back my liberty. I don’t wish particularly to be married, and I do wish to do as I like — as I’ve been doing for the last month. All the same I’m sorry for poor mamma, since nothing has happened that she wished to happen. To begin with, we’re not appreciated, not even by the Rucks, who have disappeared in the strange way in which people over here seem to vanish from the world. We’ve made no sensation; my new dresses count for nothing (they all have better ones); our philological and historical studies don’t show. We’ve been told we might do better in Boston; but on the other hand mamma hears that in Boston the people only marry their cousins. Then mamma’s out of sorts because the country’s exceedingly dear and we’ve spent all our money. Moreover, I’ve neither eloped, nor been insulted, nor been talked about, nor — so far as I know — deteriorated in manners or character; so that she’s wrong in all her previsions. I think she would have rather liked me to be insulted. But I’ve been insulted as little as I’ve been adored. They don’t adore you over here; they only make you think they’re going to.

Do you remember the two gentlemen who were on the ship, and who, after we arrived, came to see me à tour de rôle? At first I never dreamed they were making love to me, though mamma was sure it must be that; then, as it went on a good while, I thought perhaps it was that — after which I ended by seeing it wasn’t anything! It was simply conversation — and conversation a precocious child might have listened to at that. Mr. Leverett and Mr. Cockerel disappeared one fine day without the smallest pretension to having broken my heart, I’m sure — though it only depended on me to think they must have tried to. All the gentlemen are like that; you can’t tell what they mean; the “passions” don’t rage, the appearances don’t matter — nobody believes them. Society seems oddly to consist of a sort of innocent jilting. I think on the whole I am a little disappointed — I don’t mean about one’s not marrying; I mean about the life generally. It looks so different at first that you expect it will be very exciting; and then you find that after all, when you’ve walked out for a week or two by yourself and driven out with a gentleman in a buggy, that’s about all there is to it, as they say here. Mamma’s very angry at not finding more to dislike; she admitted yesterday that, once one has got a little settled, the country hasn’t even the merit of being hateful. This has evidently something to do with her suddenly proposing three days ago that we should “go West.” Imagine my surprise at such an idea coming from mamma! The people in the pension — who, as usual, wish immensely to get rid of her — have talked to her about the West, and she has taken it up with a kind of desperation. You see we must do something; we can’t simply remain here. We’re rapidly being ruined and we’re not — so to speak — getting married. Perhaps it will be easier in the West; at any rate it will be cheaper and the country will have the advantage of being more hateful. It’s a question between that and returning to Europe, and for the moment mamma’s balancing. I say nothing: I’m really indifferent; perhaps I shall marry a pioneer. I’m just thinking how I shall give back my liberty. It really won’t be possible; I haven’t got it any more; I’ve given it away to others. Mamma may get it back if she can from them! She comes in at this moment to announce that we must push further — she has decided for the West. Wonderful mamma! It appears that my real chance is for a pioneer — they’ve sometimes millions. But fancy us at Oshkosh!

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