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28 Mar 2017

English (US)
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“An English New Year” is a short story written by the well-known author Henry James.
He was an American born British writer, regarded as one of the key figures of the 19th century literary realism. Henry James was born in New York in 1843. His father, his namesake Henry James Sr. had inherited a considerable sum of money and spent his time in leisured pursuit of theology and philosophy, and thanks to him he got a remarkable education. Henry James was a true cosmopolite. He was a citizen of the world and he travelled a lot all over the Europe and America. He is best known for a number of novels where he is always a character who presents his own view of the world. In fact, he claimed that a text must first be realistic and contain a representation of the real life. He died in 1916, in Chelsea, near London.

“An English New Year” is a story or better, it is considered a dispatch for the New Year which was published in “The Nation” on January 12, 1879.
He starts his dispatch showing the economic situation of the 1870s, which began with a series of bank failures that lasted until the end of the decade, a period known as “The Great Depression”. Here it is very interesting the link between a sad and gloomy landscape and the life condition of people. He describes the scenery as cold and vicious, as if the nature wanted to join to the sentimental situation of people. The country has a sense of embarrassment and depression, which is brought less or more to every class in the graduated social hierarchy, because of ridiculous men’s presumptions; the same presumptions that had taken businessmen to the economic collapse. It is also interesting how Henry James tends to accuse only men, underlining the submission and the expulsion of women from the economic and political space, asserting, ironically speaking, even that he is ignorant. But the simple fact that he is conscious of the committed mistakes shows us his irony. On the other hand, he shows how the distress among lower classes has been reduced by the poor-relief system, symbol of the English civilization, acclaiming the science of distributing charity, a problem that had occupied a remarkable place among administrative questions for a long time.
Then, he moves to the North of England, where he decides to spend his Christmas holiday. Also here the description of the scenery is very interesting, typical of the realism literacy: there’s a worse landscape than the first one, because the state of misery and poverty is worse. The snow is gray, the symbol of purity is almost converted into a sticky, lead-coloured mush, houses are small and windows are lurid.
The only thing can turn his emotional state is the charm of a luxurious fireside. But, we have to see this fireside not in the literally meaning. In fact it has an extra meaning connected to the idea of life, of human warmth, to the idea of staying together. It’s a clue for what is going to happen. He tells of his Christmas eve spent in a English workhouse, under the invite of a lady to assist at the distribution of the toys. When he gets into this workhouse, immediately he is transported to the early pages of “Oliver Twist” by his memory. Here the scenery changes: he speaks about a large refectory, chiefly illuminated by Christmas-tree candles, full of hundreds of children who take with them an atmosphere rich of hospitality and good cheer. The story ends with the melancholy hymn sung by the children to thank their benefactress.
In my opinion Henry James wants to send an important message to the people, in order for them to come out from this economic collapse, and this is possible only if they can find a compromise between the past and what is going to be, accepting their own faults and trying to mend their injuries.


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