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Dreamed summer of some year in the 1870s or 1880s, by Henry James


I think Henry James's prose style is a fine example of how not to tell a dream (I hold by the science-fiction-writer's axiom "Familiar events allow ornate style; weirdness demands clear reporting.") But the dream itself is splendidly direct. A nightmare tries to pry open a door and get to James, until he decides "I'm as scary as any monster", and opens the door to attack his worst fear. Turnabout! His act of courage shapes a grand hall of the Louvre remembered from childhood, a grand Gothic storm... and the dwarfed fleeing figure of his ex-nemesis.

--Chris Wayan


The Galerie d'Apollon became for years what I can only term a splendid scene of things, even of the quite irrelevant or, as might be, almost unworthy; and I recall to this hour, with the last vividness, what a precious part it played for me, and exactly by that continuity of honour, on my awaking, in a summer dawn many years later, to the fortunate, the instantaneous recovery and capture of the most appalling yet most admirable nightmare of my life.

The climax of this extraordinary experience--which stands alone for me as a dream-adventure founded in the deepest, quickest, clearest act of cogitation and comparison, act indeed of life-saving energy, as well as in unutterable fear--was the sudden pursuit, through an open door, along a huge high saloon, of a just dimly-descried figure that retreated in terror before my rush and dash (a glare of inspired reaction from irresistible but shameful dread,) out of the room I had a moment before been desperately, and all the more abjectly, defending by the push of my shoulder against hard pressure on lock and bar from the other side.

The lucidity, not to say the sublimity, of the crisis had consisted of the great thought that I, in my appalled state, was probably still more appalling than the awful agent, creature or presence, whatever he was, whom I had guessed, in the suddenest wild start from sleep, the sleep within my sleep, to be making for my place of rest. The triumph of my impulse, perceived in a flash as I acted on it by myself at a bound, forcing the door outward, was the grand thing, but the great point of the whole was the wonder of my final recognition.

Routed, dismayed, the tables turned upon him by my so surpassing him for straight aggression and dire intention, my visitant was already but a diminished spot in the long perspective, the tremendous, glorious hall, as I say, over the far-gleaming floor of which, cleared for the occasion of its great line of priceless vitrines down the middle, he sped for his life, while a great storm of thunder and lightning played through the deep embrasures of high windows at the right. The lightning that revealed the retreat revealed also the wondrous place and, by the same amazing play, my young imaginative life in it of long before, the sense of which, deep within me, had kept it whole, preserved it to this thrilling use; for what in the world were the deep embrasures and the so polished floor but those of the Galerie d'Apollon of my childhood?

The 'scene of something' I had vaguely then felt it? Well I might, since it was to be the scene of that immense hallucination.

--Henry James

sketch by Wayan of a dream by Henry James. Night. A storm. A lightning-flash reveals a grand hall with chandeliers, arched windows, and at the far end, a small fleeing figure.

SOURCE: near the end of Henry James's autobiography A Small Boy and Others, 1913, as quoted in The Oxford Book of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook) 1983. The dream is untitled in the original; Turnabout is just my title of convenience. Sketch is also mine. --Wayan

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