Short Story Spotlight: "Brooksmith" by Henry James

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Henry James is one of those authors I've heard plenty about but never attempted (although Wings of the Dove is on my TBR). As I've done in the past with the Short Story Spotlight, I thought a short story would be a good way to introduce myself to his works. I'm not sure how I came across "Brooksmith" - I have a document with ideas for my features and "Brooksmith" was heading the list. It was as good a place as any to commence, so commence I did.

"Brooksmith" tells the story of the butler of an old man, Mr. Offord, who held in his English home something akin to a salon - men would come and discuss philosophy and art and society with him. His butler, Brooksmith, was always a part of these meetings, at first only as a servant, but later coming to love and grow through them. When Mr. Offord passes away, Brooksmith no longer has the opportunity to participate in society and is instead consigned to be a member of the servant class, spending time with others of his station and separate from the conversations that became life to him, as well as separate from the friendship of Mr. Offord.

This was an interesting little visit into the life of the butler, especially as it was narrated by someone who belonged to the "society" that Brooksmith craved. The story demonstrated the inequality of status in London at the time (I'm not sure when exactly the story was meant to be set, but it was written in 1892). Brooksmith had no hope of moving up, of being accepted into higher circles now that his one window, Mr. Offord, was no longer part of his life. One of the most touching things about Brooksmith's plight for me was the fact that it wasn't money or luxury that he craved. It was society and conversation - of communicating with high-thinking minds and being seen as a friend and a member of that group, if only temporarily. When this joy is no longer a part of Brooksmith's life, he is "spoiled," as Offord's acquaintances put the issue - he is no longer content spend his life in a subservient role, being consulted only on who has come to the door or where the drinks are.

I found James' writing to be very wordy, something that put me off for the first several minutes that I read the story, but the subject matter was interesting enough to me that I was able to get past it. I think every classic author takes some getting used to, and I am certainly not going to give up on James until I manage to at least get through a novel. I am hoping that his sensitive and unique take on human nature will be present in his novels and look forward to "getting to know" him better.


  1. I really enjoyed this story when I read it a couple months ago. It's one of my favorites. If you're interested in getting to know James, Daisy Miller is another good one, and can be read in a couple hours. :-)

  2. This sounds really interesting. And something like I might enjoy as well. I don't think I really have time for it at the moment, but I certainly didn't know about it before you highlighted thank you. I loved reading your thoughts, as always.


  3. @Jillian - Now that you comment I think it might have been off your blog that I got the idea to read Brooksmith. It is good to know that Daisy Miller is a bit shorter because I want to read Wings of the Dove but know that it is like 800 pages long.

    @Asheley - Thank you! It always makes my day when you comment. :)


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