“The Friends of the Friends”

While I’ve certainly read other Henry James’ ghost stories before, I see this is the first one I’ve reviewed. It’s will be discussed over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones group this week.

Review: “The Friends of the Friends”, Henry James, 1896.

Originally called “The Way It Came”, this one has James not piling subordinate clause on subordinate clause as other tales of his I’ve read. It’s still full of digression and is very elipitical in the sense that this seven part story names none of its characters. 

Part I has an anonymous writer presenting this to someone as an account from someone he knew.  The story was first published in Embarassments, a James collection of James. 

The rest of the story, starting with Part II, is related by a woman. She starts out by blaming herself for the coming events by first speaking of her to him. The woman in question had what modern paranormal researchers would call a “crisis vision” of her father the day he died hundreds of miles away. That was when she was 18, and she’s told the story several times to her circle of friends. 

She currently is separated from an abusive husband. (Needless to say, this being James, all the characters are in the upper class.) 

The man in question had a crisis vision of his mother’s the day she died.

The woman lives with a cousin and has many visitors and friends though she never goes to parties and sees them singly. She’s pretty. 

The narrator gets the idea, since both the man and woman have this peculiar incident in their life in common, of introducing them to each other. However, over five years, they never do; something always comes up. The narrator almost suspects that they don’t want to meet though they claim they do. The narrator also notes the peculiarity of this class in not like having their photographs taken. 

In Part III, the man becomes engaged, after several years, to the narrator. She demands, as part of the engagement, to have a photograph of him, and he does give her one.

The narrator contrives for the man and woman to meet at last. She promises her friend that, if she shows up at her place at a given time, she will meet her fiance. The woman, however, admits she is “extraordinarily afraid”, but she’ll come. The woman’s husband has finally died.

But, oddly, the narrator gets more and more uneasy about the pending meeting. She realizes she’s jealous, that she should have waited until she was married before introducing the woman to her husband. Her fear gets so strong she sabotages the meeting by sending a note to her finace which diverts him from showing up at the scheduled tea time meeting. 

In Part IV, the woman does show up, and the narrator makes excuses for her fiance’s absence, lies that she doesn’t know where he is. She even feels annoyed that her friend shows up in mourning dress.  Should she be observing propriety by not showing up for tea until her husband has been dead at least a couple of days. The friend finally leaves declaring she will never meet the man.

When her fiance shows up, the narrator confesses what she did. The narrator notes her friend saw the fiance’s photograph and noted the address on it. The narrator admits she was afraid her fiance would fall in love with the woman. She didn’t fear that possibility before. She does now. I speculate it is because the woman is now a widow and marriageable. The narrator promises to tell her friend what she did. 

In Part V, she goes to visit her friend to find out she died the night before. It turns out her friend had a heart condition. That’s what she avoided the excitement of parties. Some stress from the night before brought on a fatal heart attack when got home. 

The narrator goes to her fiance’s apartment to tell him of the woman’s death. He’s astonished.  He saw the woman the night before. She came to his apartment. 

An argument results in which the narrator insists the woman was dead, another crisis apparition he’s seen. He insists the woman was alive.

In Part VI, they argue about the timing of things related to when the fiance left the narrator’s place and when her friend died. 

The fiance spoke to the woman. She said nothing, just looked at him. After missing him at the narrator’s place, she clearly wanted to meet him and knew where he lived. 

The narrator doesn’t really believe this. The fiance does say of the woman, “Wasn’t she wonderful!”  Maybe he dreamed her, but the description he gives of the woman matches what she was wearing. 

Part VII describes the disintegration of the engagement. The narrator’s jealousy has to be dealt with, so she confronts her fiance. 

She tells him she’s not marrying him. Another woman has become between them. He protests she’s dead and buried. 

She’s buried, but she’s not dead. She’s dead for the world—she’s dead for me. But she’s not dead for you. 

He replies that she’s referring to their varying interpretation of what happened during that visit. 

“Absurdities”, she says, have changed things. 

He presses her what she means, and she speaks of his “idiosyncracy”, his “peculiar power”.

’Your accessibility to forms of life,’ I coldly went on, ‘your command of impressions, appearances, contacts closed—for our gain or our loss—to the rest of us. That was originally a part of the deep interest with which you inspired me—one of the reasons I was amused, I was indeed positively proud to know you. It was a magnificent distinction; it’s a magnificent distinction still. But of course I had no prevision then of the way it would operate now; and even had that been the case I should have had none of the extraordinary way in which its action would affect me.’ 

He professes not to know what she’s talking about. 

She missed you for five years . . . but she never misses you now. . . . You see her—you see her: you see her every night! . . . She comes to you as she came that evening , ,  . having tried it she found she liked it! 

What if he does, the man replies. 

It’s your natural right; it belongs to your constitution and to your wonderful, if not perhaps quite enviable fortune. But you will easily understand that it separates us.

He tries to backtrack on his earlier statement, but the narrator is resolute and says she will not speak of his power to anyone.  He tries to convince her not to break the engagement but fails. She leaves him to his “inconceivable communion”. 

In the last paragraph, we learn the narrator never married nor did the man.  Six years later he died mysteriously. The narrator sees, in his death, “an intention, the mark of his own hidden hand”. “Unquenchable desire” and an “irresistible call” led to his fate.  It’s a strange and memorable story and a study in female psychology, particularly how the narrator sees subtle clues in her fiance’s demeanor that show he is communing with the dead woman.

3 thoughts on ““The Friends of the Friends”

  1. Bookstooge April 12, 2022 / 5:31 pm

    Do you have a link to the LT group? I searched out Deep Ones and only some dormant groups showed up…

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