The Altar of the Dead by Henry James

The Horsham House Press (e-book)    

68 Pages 

This was a free e-book from


A short story about love, death, mortality, and remembrance. 


He had a mortal dislike, poor Stransom, to lean anniversaries, and loved them still less when they made pretence of a figure. Celebrations and suppressions were equally painful to him, and but one of the former found a place in his life. He had kept each year in his own fashion the date of Mary Antrim’s death. It would be more to the point perhaps to say that this occasion kept HIM: it kept him at least effectually from doing anything else. It took hold of him again and again with a hand of which time had softened but never loosened the touch. He waked to his feast of memory as consciously as he would have waked to his marriage-morn. Marriage had had of old but too little to say to the matter: for the girl who was to have been his bride there had been no bridal embrace. She had died of a malignant fever after the wedding-day had been fixed, and he had lost before fairly tasting it an affection that promised to fill his life to the brim. Of that benediction, however, it would have been false to say this life could really be emptied: it was still ruled by a pale ghost, still ordered by a sovereign presence. 


I was disappointed by The Altar of the Dead. I really enjoyed James’s story The Turn of the Screw and thought this would be in a similar vein. I really liked the title. Unfortunately, The Altar of the Dead is just okay. James’s story isn’t awful (I’ve read a lot worse) but neither is it great. The Alar of the Dead is a middle of the road story, one you can take or leave. The Turn of the Screw is much more unsettling. James’s writing is excellent in The Altar of the Dead but that’s not enough to make this a great story. I found large chunks of The Altar of the Dead boring. There were some good moments but these were very sparse. Overall, The Altar of the Dead is very average. 




One Comment Add yours

  1. jrhgriffiths says:

    One star? A little harsh, no? Henry James is one of my favorite authors – his writing can transform even a mediocre story into beautiful prose. Just a little surprised, since everything else on here earns four to five stars.

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