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The Outcry

Henry James

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Tags: Fiction

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To cover the gambling debts of his daughter Kitty Imber, the widowed Lord Theign is planning to sell his beautiful painting, 'Duchess of Waterbridge' by Sir Joshua Reynolds to American billionaire Breckenridge Bender. Hugh Crimble, a young art critic, argues against the sale, saying that Britain's art treasures should stay in the country. While the controversy in this novel might seem trivial, it's seemingly similar to the furor that erupted during the 1980s in the United States, when Japanese buyers were snapping up trophy acquisitions in America. American newspapers at the time created much the same stink as the British newspapers in James' book.

This book has 176 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1911.

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Excerpt from 'The Outcry'

"NO, my lord," Banks had replied, "no stranger has yet arrived. But I'll see if any one has come in—or who has." As he spoke, however, he observed Lady Sandgate's approach to the hall by the entrance giving upon the great terrace, and addressed her on her passing the threshold. "Lord John, my lady." With which, his duty majestically performed, he retired to the quarter—that of the main access to the spacious centre of the house—from which he had ushered the visitor.

This personage, facing Lady Sandgate as she paused there a moment framed by the large doorway to the outer expanses, the small pinkish paper of a folded telegram in her hand, had partly before him, as an immediate effect, the high wide interior, still breathing the quiet air and the fair pannelled security of the couple of hushed and stored centuries, in which certain of the reputed treasures of Dedborough Place beautifully disposed themselves; and then, through ample apertures and beyond the stately stone outworks of the great seated and supported house—uplifting terrace, balanced, balustraded steps and containing basins where splash and spray were at rest—all the rich composed extension of garden and lawn and park. An ancient, an assured elegance seemed to reign; pictures and preserved "pieces," cabinets and tapestries, spoke, each for itself, of fine selection and high distinction; while the originals of the old portraits, in more or less deserved salience, hung over the happy scene as the sworn members of a great guild might have sat, on the beautiful April day, at one of their annual feasts.

Such was the setting confirmed by generous time, but the handsome woman of considerably more than forty whose entrance had all but coincided with that of Lord John either belonged, for the eye, to no such complacent company or enjoyed a relation to it in which the odd twists and turns of history must have been more frequent than any dull avenue or easy sequence. Lady Sandgate was shiningly modern, and perhaps at no point more so than by the effect of her express repudiation of a mundane future certain to be more and more offensive to women of real quality and of formed taste. Clearly, at any rate, in her hands, the clue to the antique confidence had lost itself, and repose, however founded, had given way to curiosity—that is to speculation—however disguised. She might have consented, or even attained, to being but gracefully stupid, but she would presumably have confessed, if put on her trial for restlessness or for intelligence, that she was, after all, almost clever enough to be vulgar. Unmistakably, moreover, she had still, with her fine stature, her disciplined figure, her cherished complexion, her bright important hair, her kind bold eyes and her large constant smile, the degree of beauty that might pretend to put every other question by.

Lord John addressed her as with a significant manner that he might have had—that of a lack of need, or even of interest, for any explanation about herself: it would have been clear that he was apt to discriminate with sharpness among possible claims on his attention. "I luckily find youat least, Lady Sandgate—they tell me Theign's off somewhere."

She replied as with the general habit, on her side, of bland reassurance; it mostly had easier consequences—for herself—than the perhaps more showy creation of alarm. "Only off in the park—open to-day for a school-feast from Dedborough, as you may have made out from the avenue; giving good advice, at the top of his lungs, to four hundred and fifty children."

It was such a scene, and such an aspect of the personage so accounted for, as Lord John could easily take in, and his recognition familiarly smiled. "Oh he's so great on such occasions that I'm sorry to be missing it."

"I've had to miss it," Lady Sandgate sighed—"that is to miss the peroration. I've just left them, but he had even then been going on for twenty minutes, and I dare say that if you care to take a look you'll find him, poor dear victim of duty, still at it."

"I'll warrant—for, as I often tell him, he makes the idea of one's duty an awful thing to his friends by the extravagance with which he always overdoes it." And the image itself appeared in some degree to prompt this particular edified friend to look at his watch and consider. "I should like to come in for the grand finale, but I rattled over in a great measure to meet a party, as he calls himself—and calls, if you please, even me!—who's motoring down by appointment and whom I think I should be here to receive; as well as a little, I confess, in the hope of a glimpse of Lady Grace: if you can perhaps imagine that!"

"I can imagine it perfectly," said Lady Sandgate, whom evidently no perceptions of that general order ever cost a strain. "It quite sticks out of you, and every one moreover has for some time past been waiting to see. But you haven't then," she added, "come from town?"

"No, I'm for three days at Chanter with my mother; whom, as she kindly lent me her car, I should have rather liked to bring."

Lady Sandgate left the unsaid, in this connection, languish no longer than was decent. "But whom you doubtless had to leave, by her preference, just settling down to bridge."

"Oh, to sit down would imply that my mother at some moment of the day gets up——!"

"Which the Duchess never does?"—Lady Sand-gate only asked to be allowed to show how she saw it. "She fights to the last, invincible; gathering in the spoils and only routing her friends?" She abounded genially in her privileged vision. "Ah yes—we know something of that!"

Lord John, who was a young man of a rambling but not of an idle eye, fixed her an instant with a surprise that was yet not steeped in compassion. "You too then?"

She wouldn't, however, too meanly narrow it down. "Well, in this house generally; where I'm so often made welcome, you see, and where——"

"Where," he broke in at once, "your jolly good footing quite sticks out of you, perhaps you'll let me say!"

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