A Passionate Pilgrim

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A Passionate Pilgrim by Henry James, first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1871. The story was the earliest fiction that James included in the New York Edition (1907–09) of his works. Set in England, the tale shows James' strong interest in the contrast between the Old World and the New. In fact, the difference between America and Europe erupts into open conflict in the story, which leads to an ironic ending.The narrator meets fellow American Clement Searle at an old-fashioned London inn. Searle has long wanted to settle in England to escape what he considers his arid life in America. But he is physically ailing, and he's also depressed because his lawyer cannot uphold his claim to a share in a country estate currently owned by Richard Searle, a distant relation. Clement and the narrator visit the estate, where they meet the ethereal Miss Searle, who supports Clement's cause.They also meet Miss Searle's brother Richard, who is at first suspicious and then outright hostile and combative toward Clement. Upset by the conflict Clement and the narrator travel to Oxford, where they help a gentleman, Mr Rawson, down on his luck to travel to America. Clement is now very sick and sends for Miss Searle. She responds to his call and tells him that her brother has been thrown from a horse and killed. Clement might now have a real chance for a share of the estate, but the opportunity comes too late for him. He dies and is buried in the England which proved so inhospitable to him.Clement Searle is an early example of James' imaginative and sensitive protagonists who are often defeated by less fastidious adversaries. The perhaps overly blunt irony of the story is that Clement might have realized his dream of living on an English estate if his physical frailty had not betrayed him.The story shows James still in his apprentice stage. Although written in an assured and fluent manner, there are many passages of local color description that intrude rather obviously into the narrative. These passages do give substance to Clement's dream of settling and living in the England he has long idealized. Of course, Clement's creator would realize that dream by living and prospering in England for most of his adulthood. The story also plays on another common theme in James' fiction: the simultaneous allure and danger of experience. The closer Clement gets to his goal of a home in the English countryside, the sicker he becomes. James' fiction would often show imaginative characters getting near the dense, "passionate" experience they desire, only to find that such experience can be destructive as well.