Henry James’ crystal ball

At About Last Night, Laura Demanski compares Brigid Hughes’ editorial stint at The Paris Review, culminating in the Board of Directors’ recent announcement that it would not renew Hughes’ contract, to a story by Henry James:

Hughes by all accounts had been trying to keep the prestigious but not popular journal steered as near as possible to the trail her mentor George Plimpton had blazed for it. On the news of her certain departure, observers speculated that the board had different ideas about little matters like circulation and profitability, and were taking delayed advantage of the power vacuum left by Plimpton’s death to remake the Review as a more relevant and remunerative publication.

At the time, all of this reminded me powerfully of something. But I didn’t figure out what it was until this week: the opening scenes of an 1894 short story by Henry James, “The Death of the Lion.” The story is freely available for downloading here. “The Death of the Lion” is narrated by the right-hand man of the recently deceased editor of a London weekly that has been taken over by a Mr. Pinhorn (is there anyone who is better at names than James at his best?). Mr. Pinhorn is all about the numbers….

[He] has turned a genteel journal into a glorified gossip rag. Under Deedy [the prior editor] the journal appears to have been mainly critical; Pinhorn has turned it into a fin-de-siécle People Magazine.

There’s “something slightly leavening in the realization that, 110 years on, it’s essentially the same battle still being fought,” Demanski says. “This implies, at least, that it hasn’t yet been lost.”


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