“The Friends of the Friends” by Henry James

Victorian Young Lady. From the James Ford Historic Home.
Victorian Young Lady. From the James Ford Historic Home.

After days of putting down The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories by Henry James in favor of other books, I finally got through reading it.

I read the first two stories on different earlier occasions but didn’t find much of it to my taste. I liked the third – “The Friends of the Friends” – best:

A lady – the narrator of the journal that made up the story – spiritedly arranged the meeting of two friends who share many qualities. Among others, the man, who is also the narrator’s fiancé, and the other lady, shared a history of seeing ghosts.

The meeting was delayed, appointments were passed up. And when it looked as if it was finally pushing through, the lady narrator herself sabotaged the acquaintance to avert her jealousy.

It was on the night of this missed encounter that the fiancé claimed to his having seen the other lady. The narrator, knowing that her friend died of heart failure that very night, told her fiancé that he saw a ghost.

In the end, the narrator accused the man of falling for the memory of her dead friend and eventually broke up. The man died shortly after and the narrator concluded that it was

a direct contribution to my theory… It was the result of a long necessity, of an unquenchable desire… a response to an irresistible call.

So much for the other two seeing ghosts: the narrator herself was the one who saw ghosts everywhere – nurturing them between herself and her fiancé. ■



  1. This was one of the most excruciatingly boring and dumb ghost short stories I’ve read in my life. As usual with Henry James’ fiction, nothing made sense to me. Characters talk (and think they think) a lot but are unengaging and their manners and reactions are preposterous and laughable. The fact of the fiancé killing himself because of his fascination for a ghostly woman is far-fetched at best, as is that of the narrator getting jealous because of a dead woman, what a bunch of puppets… The recurrent apparitions of ghostly figures are clumsy and uninspired, exciting no thrill of any kind at all. They just appear and disappear with no consequence whatsoever. The breaking of natural order seems here as everyday routine, like buying a magazine in a newstand. What a waste… The contemplation of a ghost in real life should at best provoke madness on the onlooker, or at least some frenzied pumping on the heart when not just a few blackouts or some whitening of the hair. You can’t relate to this, it’s completely unbelievable even for the standards of the fantastic genre.

    As to the more extensive review by Jeffrey Ford someone else mentioned, I even got bored reading his short summary, which gives me an idea that James’ stories do not get much better when they are discussed about. My congratulations then to karlo mikhail, he is able to synthesize in a few lines what others cannot. Anyway, for what this story is worth, I don’t even think it necessary.

    Henry James is the worst stylist in the history of American literature. If you want to read something better, with less than half the verbose content but nonetheless more challenging for your brain, read Ambrose Bierce’s ghost stories.

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