Just hit my reading goal of 26 books for 2020 with The Diary of a Man of Fifty by Henry James. This was a bit of a cheat since it really is only a short story, so I will be doing at least a couple more “real” books before the end of the year. This book had been sitting in my Kindle library for quite a while. I think I added it after Maria Popova at Brain Pickings featured it. One of my other goals this year was to make in dent in the list of books I had added to me “Want to Read” list.
This story first appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine and Macmillan’s Magazine in July 1879. It was later included in the collection The Madonna of the Future and Other Tales. It is one of his lesser known stories. It is set in Florence and uses a journal/diary style which was unusual for James.
The protagonist is a fifty-two year old English army general of who returns to Florence twenty-five years after a romance with Countess Falvi, a woman who has died ten years previously. He revisits the places they used to frequent together. He then meets Edmund Stanmer, a young English traveller of twenty-five who is acquainted with the Countess’s daughter Bianca. The General takes a liking to him, feeling that he is a reminder of his younger self. As the story unfolds, we find out that the General had walked away from his relationship with the Countess because he felt betrayed. He counsels Stanmer that the daughter seems very much like the mother and he should be cautious in pursuing a relationship. Stanmer resists the attempts to persuade him to walk away. He marries Bianca and is happy. The General is left wondering what might have been.
Not the best of Henry James, but recommended.