Jamesian Windows

Henry James in The American Scene thought the new buildings of New York ugly, with too many windows -- “a condition never to be reconciled with any grace of building.”

Elsewhere he wrote of Compton Wyngate's “ivy-smothered brickwork and weather-beaten gables, conscious old windows and clustered mossy roofs.”

This idea of windows as conscious is strikingly Jamesisan, suggesting a man fond of privacy, acutely aware of being observed -- a man constitutionally nervous around windows. Strether in The Ambassadors has a "sense of names in the air, of ghosts at the windows, of signs and tokens, a whole range of expression, all about him, too thick for prompt discrimination."

Windows are not only conscious but haunted. There's the idea of a story as a frame that affords a perspective -- James's feelings about windows tie in with his obsession with point of view.

Similar imagery crops up in the work of his brother William, who wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience that “there never can be a state of facts to which new meaning may not truthfully be added, provided the mind ascend to a more enveloping point of view. It must always remain an open question whether mystical states may not possibly be such superior points of view, windows through which the mind looks out upon a more extensive and inclusive world.”

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