The testicles story, any sex stuff, and literary back stabbings
February 13, 2013 11:10 PM   Subscribe

I realized that if something had happened to Henry James' testicles, that my friends didn't know about it, because if they did, it'd just be weird that they didn't mention it - given what we were talking about. And I thought this was sort of neat because one of my friends had done his Ph.D. on James, and even he didn't know about the guy's self-castration! I instantly resolved to solve the mystery.
            "Look," I said, exited now, "I'm pretty sure something happened down there, so I'm going to check it out. And when I do find out - "
            "You'll let us know.
            "We'll look forward to it."
posted by carsonb (22 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

posted by carsonb at 11:13 PM on February 13, 2013

I love this for many reasons, not least of which that Sheldon Novick is a friend of mine and I am always on Team Novick.

I once volunteered my (and my husband's) services to clean Jonathan Ames's apartment, because he was complaining about it at a Moth show and I thought "This is the least we could do in return for the pleasure he gave both of us with Wake Up, Sir!" but I think he thought that would be weird, either because maybe I would be a crazed fan who would steal his underpants or because I am not a professional house cleaner and was in fact very fancy with diamonds, etc., at that moment because I had been at a bat mitzvah earlier.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:19 PM on February 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not that house cleaners don't own diamonds. I think I burned my brain when I was helping Henry James's testicles put out that fire.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:21 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like this needs a history channel special where they exhume his body and do Forensic Science on his testicles to solve History's Mystery. At the very least, a film crew needs to follow around an eccentric historian as he stands around in cemeteries and complains that the authorities won't give him permission to dig up James because they are afraid of the Truth. This should be accompanied by a dramatic voice over and Ken-Burns-effect photo zooms into James' crotch. Speculative connections to Masons and forbidden rituals a plus.
posted by Pyry at 11:57 PM on February 13, 2013 [13 favorites]

Henry James: #smellsamazeballs.
posted by Segundus at 1:44 AM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Pyry: Or we could go the Mythbusters route. "In order to determine whether James actually knocked out his nads on that fence, we're going to blow up his corpse. Or, more precisely, set the corpse aflame and shoot it at the Columbia literature department from a trebuchet."
posted by kaibutsu at 1:56 AM on February 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

See, for anybody else, I would read those vague, circuitous but obscurely ominous passages from his memoir and immediately think "yeah, testicles." But this is Henry James, the man who probably couldn't describe a lemon poppyseed muffin without being vague, circuitous but obscurely ominous. So who the hell knows, maybe it was just his back.
posted by ostro at 2:26 AM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

MetaFilter: I'm late to work because of Henry James' testicles.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 2:46 AM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think we make a visit with the mystery of Henry James' testicles an annual Valentine's Day thing.
posted by steef at 4:21 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whatever the testicular state, that letter to HG Wells letter was pretty over the top; does anyone know how usual/unusual that sort of fawning, slavering prose would be between colleagues (as opposed to lovers)? It sure would have knocked me back a bit.


Not that house cleaners don't own diamonds. I think I burned my brain when I was helping Henry James's testicles put out that fire.

is my new favorite Metafilter sentence.
posted by taz at 4:56 AM on February 14, 2013

"Q: What are the possibilities of literary biography?

[Vladimir Nabokov]: They are great fun to write, generally less fun to read. Sometimes the thing becomes a kind of double paper chase: first, the biographer pursues his quarry through letters and diaries, and across the bogs of conjecture, and then a rival authority pursues the muddy biographer."
posted by Diablevert at 5:35 AM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

When I get the overpowering urge to write a compound-complex sentence I go to anything James wrote. This usually purges the urge from my system. But, his balls? Really? Are you sure they weren't talking about the judge?
posted by mule98J at 7:11 AM on February 14, 2013

Christ that was great. At some point I was wondering if Wood was actually a dummy of Ames' - because that would be kind of hilarious, but then there was that whole digression at the end about the missing books and yeah, yeah that's definitely the better story.

I mean, any way you slice it there's something hopeless about such an inquiry, I mean into the status of Henry James' balls. There's sort of a silly assumption that if the testicles could be considered healthy then... Uh... well, see? There's no there there. But it's a great path getting there and thank god someone undertook it.

I always just figured James was gay and discreet (possibly gay and miserable), but his oreintation never had any real bearing on my appreciation of his work. Because that isn't why I read him.

And the detour through Fitzgerald's potential closet was also kind of a wacky/funny thought exercise.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:14 AM on February 14, 2013

Wait, is this fiction or nonfiction?
posted by NathanBoy at 8:21 AM on February 14, 2013

Wait, is this fiction or nonfiction?

Either way, it's a load of balls.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you read the passage in the James's autobiography it really seems that what he's most concerned to do is to explain his failure to respond to the call to arms of the Civil War. (By the way, if you're doing a search string, don't use "saving the stream to flow" which is a typo for "the saving stream to flow"). It's really not clear (given the difficulty of pinning down when the accident happened) if this incident ever actually occurred. It's certainly very hard to imagine a scenario in which a patient who had been castrated would find a doctor examining the injury and dismissing it as a mere bagatelle.

If the accident did happen at all I would have thought the more likely explanation would be that he suffered a hernia (the awkward posture involved in operating a hand-cranked pump while straddling fences would seem conducive to such a thing).
posted by yoink at 9:41 AM on February 14, 2013

This literary rumor has been going around a long time. I remember hearing about it in college in the 1990s. Perhaps it was discussed in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's The Epistemology of the Closet.
posted by jonp72 at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2013

Anyone else catch that the piece is written in the story-within-a-story style that Henry James himself loved to use?
posted by yellowcandy at 10:53 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think we make a visit with the mystery of Henry James' testicles an annual Valentine's Day thing.

steef, was that the same article? Ames' site doesn't like that link anymore (404s it, and the base domain is just a redirect to Amazon).
posted by carsonb at 11:36 AM on February 14, 2013


hab-eggerhalb-eggerhalb Ger. meaning "half" + egger Eng. "having eggs"

posted by benito.strauss at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wayback Machine confirms, carsonb. At the bottom of the current article, there is a blurb about the author (?):
Michael Wood was born in New York City, where he lives now. He writes, "Alfred Habegger and Sheldon Novick were both kind enough to reply to my letters, for which I am grateful. If you've heard any strange rumors about writers but don't know what the whole story is, you can write me at and I will try to find out what happened. Also, I'm sorry for all the stupid mistakes I no-doubt made." This Michael Wood should not be confused with the Michael Wood who is the chair of the English Department at Princeton University.
That e-mail address also shows up on this page and also references Ames, which leads me back to this old "Literary Dick" column.
posted by steef at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if such a revelation would make Maisie any less annoying or Washington Square any less wonderful.
posted by goofyfoot at 1:56 AM on February 15, 2013

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