A promising young writer meets an older man whose works have inspired him, as well as a highly intelligent and attractive young woman, at a gathering in a country house. Anxious to learn all he can from the older writer, the young man seeks his views not only about art, but also the way in which a serious artist should live. By the end of the work, he has indeed learned his lessons, albeit not quite those that he was expecting. It’s not giving anything away to say that this work bears some resemblance to James’s later novel, The Ambassadors, which in many ways engages the same questions.
The novella tells the story of a young writer, Paul Overt, who meets Henry St. George, a famous novelist Overt admires. During that time, Overt also meets and falls in love with Marian Fancourt, a young woman who admires both St. George's and Overt's work. During their meetings, St. George, who is married, advises Overt against getting married and having children, arguing that a wife and children will be the death of Overt's creativity and career. Overt then takes an extended vacation in which he considers St. George's advice. When he returns, he learns that St. George's wife had died and that St. George and Marian Fancourt had become engaged. Overt feels that St. George had set him up in order to have Miss Fancourt for himself, but St. George insists that by marrying her, he saved Overt and his career.
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