Of Purgatory and Homage to the Dead
Mark Twain once reportedly said about a certain Henry James story, “Once you put it down you can’t pick it up again.” I can’t imagine which one he had in mind because I’m picking them up, all the time. Twain, too, whose stories I adore. But James was the undisputed Master, who with the fire of his genius knew how to transfigure everything he touched.
Today, I’m thinking especially of “The Altar of the Dead,” which possesses a special seasonal relevance on All Souls Day. To read it properly, of course, it helps to have a lively interest in death, which