How To Tell If You Are In A Henry James Novel -The Toast

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Previously in this series.

1. You’ve done something in a piazza that renders you unfit for polite company.

2. Either your taste is impeccable and everything you touch becomes a magisterial work of art or your taste is atrocious and everyone who visits your house is horrified into a terse silence.

3. You once had to speak to a Jew and the recollection of it both thrills and disgusts you.

4. Much of your time is spent writing long, abusive letters to people you love from places you hate.

5. Your deepest secret is already known by the one person you are most invested in keeping it from, who also believes that he or she is keeping the same secret from you. You have tea together twice a week and strong ideas about each other’s biscuits.

6. You’ve come to a devastating resolution on a train.

7. You’ve spent the morning at the offices of an anarchist newspaper and the evening at an excessively lavish dinner.

8. You have a burning longing for someone that, if acted upon, would violate every ideal upon which you’ve meticulously built your fraught existence.

9. In colloquial Italian, your name means something unspeakable.

10. For the past several years you’ve been having a sexual relationship with someone who is a stranger to you, perhaps literally.

11. You regret having sat for a painting but bridle at the thought of photography.

12. You’ve met an aristocrat who is about to change everything for you.

13. You are an aristocrat who sees everyone else as an early Christian in the coliseum of your twisted fantasy life.

14. You’ve found yourself uncomfortably wrestling between the suffocating pretense of the continent and the aesthetic banality of the new world while selecting a traveling dress.

15. You are driven by a single, indiscernible desire.

16. If your time were your own, you’d spend all of it waiting for visitors to lie to about not being in.

17. By all appearances you are in the process of courting an attractive, age-appropriate foreigner but you actually harbor an ardent desire for an older relative.

18. If only someone would die, you’d get everything you’ve ever wanted.

19. Though you are preternaturally wise for your tender years, you are incapable of anticipating how your world is about to be irrevocably shattered.

20. English is your first and primary language, but, comme cela se trouve, you frequently employ French to communicate sarcasm.

21. You may be someone else who the narrator is referring to and you may also be yourself; it is impossible to say at this juncture just who “you” are.

22. You finally get everything you’ve ever wanted—in such a way that exposes the deepest faults in your nature and lays bare a world of treachery, deceit, and cheaply made furnishings.

Arielle Zibrak is assistant professor of English at the University of Wyoming. Her favorite game is Things, which her brother taught her in Utah.

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