The Lesson of the Master

An Essay

by Cynthia Ozick

There was a period in my life—to purloin a famous Jamesian title, “The Middle Years”—when I used to say, with as much ferocity as I could muster, “I hate Henry James and I wish he was dead.”

I was not to have my disgruntled way. The dislike did not last and turned once again to adoration, ecstasy, and awe; and no one is more alive than Henry James, or more likely to sustain literary immortality. He is among the angels, as he meant to be.

But in earlier days I felt I had been betrayed by Henry James. I was like the youthful writer in “The Lesson of the Master” who believed in the Master’s call to live immaculately, unspoiled by what we mean when we say “life”—relationship, family mess, distraction, exhaustion, anxiety, above all disappointment.

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