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Sacred Fount, The

narrator james grown novel

a novelette by Henry James, published in 1901. This is the last of a series of tales of curiosity and wonder, in which James explores the extent to which humans live by their own fabricated ‘realities’ of the mind. During a houseparty at Newmarch, an English country house, the narrator reports his observations and theories to the reader. Moving among the guests, he is struck by the fact that Grace Brissenden who had married Guy, a man much younger than herself, has grown remarkably young. Later he notices that Guy has grown appreciably older. Out of this observation, the narrator evolves his hypothesis: that people are capable of draining each other, in a vampire-like manner. This theory gains further credence when he meets another guest, Gilbert Long, previously of a dull and banal disposition, now alert, witty, and intelligent. The narrator's weekend becomes a quest for the ‘sacred fount’ which has ministered to Long. Whilst judging the others as suspects in a detective story, he picks out one May Server, a once beautiful and intelligent woman, now apparently drained of life and hiding an emotionally broken and unhappy existence. However, his whole hypothesis is thrown into turmoil when Mrs Brissenden accuses the narrator of being ‘crazy’, as she rebuffs his veiled notions. The novel remains unclear as to whether his repudiation is due to her lies or his fanciful imagination. The novel examines the distinction between masks and reality, but it also deals with the ageing process, the invulnerability of art, and the vulnerability of love.

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