The Altar of the Dead

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Author: Henry James
Published: 1895
Language: English
Wordcount: 14,990 / 48 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 65.1
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 3,015 3893
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A fable of literally life and death significance, the story explores how the protagonist tries to keep the remembrance of his dead friends, to save them from being forgotten entirely in the rush of everyday events. He meets a woman who shares his ideals, only to find that the past places what seems to be an impassable barrier between them. Although James was not religious in any conventional sense, the story shows a deep spirituality in its treatment of mortality and the transcendent power of unselfish love. --Wikipedia

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y and the other altars were dim; a verger shuffled about, an old woman coughed, but it seemed to Stransom there was hospitality in the thick sweet air. Was it only the savour of the incense or was it something of larger intention? He had at any rate quitted the great grey suburb and come nearer to the warm centre. He presently ceased to feel intrusive, gaining at last even a sense of community with the only worshipper in his neighbourhood, the sombre presence of a woman, in mourning unrelieved, whose back was all he could see of her and who had sunk deep into prayer at no great distance from him. He wished he could sink, like her, to the very bottom, be as motionless, as rapt in prostration. After a few moments he shifted his seat; it was almost indelicate to be so aware of her. But Stransom subsequently quite lost himself, floating away on the sea of light. If occasions like this had been more frequent in his life he would have had more present the great original type, set up in a myriad temples, of t


Average Rating of 4 from 1 reviews: ****
Waldo Gemio

An off-beat, platonic love affair in which an unfulfilled man sets up a special altar to remember not only his would-be bride but every person dear to him who breathes no more...except one: his former best friend who did him an unspecified wrong. He eventually speaks to a 'faded beauty' who is a frequent visitor to the altar and they strike up a friendship based on their mutual rejection of the living. The main interest in this story lies in the main character's inability to admit to himself the truth of his feelings. The plot, such as it is, is dependent on coincidence, and the ending is rather abrupt, but James weaves a spell here not soon forgotten.

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