on henry james’s names

My slog through Henry James continues. He’s certainly a writer who takes a lot of work (and a lot of reading) to appreciate, and I feel like it’s only worth my trouble about half the time. But man, the half the time that it works!

I’m less equivocal about the names of his characters. They’re strange: this fact gets obscured because James is usually considered a realist, but his names are as weird as Pynchon or Dickens. Take the story I read today, “The Real Thing,” which features both a Miss Churm and Major Monarch. Other favorites include Dolcino Ambient (from “The Author of Beltraffio”), Paul Overt (from “The Lesson of the Master”), Ulrick Moreen (from “The Pupil”), and Miss Tita (from “The Aspern Papers”; Tita is her first name). These sound almost like real names, but there’s something slightly off and indefinably wrong about them. Which is actually a nice summary of how I feel about a lot of James.

Also, if anyone who reads these is a big James-head, what should I read next? My goal is to work up to the big later novels (Ambassadors, Wings of the Dove, Golden Bowl), but every time I’ve tried them, I’ve been overwhelmed and quit. Anything good to work up to that? I’ve read a fair amount of the major short stories that are included in like every James collection—“Beast in the Jungle,” “Daisy Miller,” “The Middle Years,” “The Figure in the Carpet,” etc.—plus Aspern Papers, Turn of the Screw, Washington Square, and The Europeans.