This article contains the summary and analysis of Henry James’ romantic gothic The Way It Came (The Friends of the Friends) (1896).
This article series provides a summary of The Way It Came, the ending or the twist and a short analysis.
Henry James (1843-1916) was an American Author of literary realism and literary modernism. But he has also written ghost stories, stories of the supernatural and the spiritual. His themes compose romance, the fear of marriage, the doppelgänger motif and of course the supernatural that subtly sneaks into real life, ever posing the question if the paranormal is real or not. Often with an unreliable narrator, told in the first person, the events can be explained either by the existence of a real ghost or something that the mind conjured up. His ghost story genre lies in the genre of Romance, where the magical co-exists with everyday life, which creates an eerie uncanny feeling. His stories are always based in the real world of human action, psychology and morality. It therefore is up to the reader to interpret the story as they wish, which can lead to wonderful lively discussions.
This article contains one of his romantic ghost stories with female protagonists upon whom doom befalls when it comes to love. The story deals with the fear or hope of marriage, which leads to death, a curse or jealousy.
The Way It Came (The Friends of the Friends) (1896)
This is a peculiar story of a women about two of her friends. ‘I know perfectly of course that I brought it upon myself; but that doesn’t make it any better. I was the first to speak of her to him – he had never heard her mentioned.’ She knows a woman and a man who just have to meet, for they are too similar to each other in every way. They are in fact bound by a ghostly experience. When the woman was 18 she was with her aunt and cousins abroad visiting a museum. Then she saw her father there, who was still in England, sitting on a bench. When she approached him, he vanished. At that time back in England he had died. The same sort of thing happened to the man. He saw, when his mother was back in Wales his mother standing with her arms open to welcome him. As he approached her, she vanished and she also had died that instant.
So the Narrator proposes a meeting and both agree, but the joke is, that meeting never happens for the most ordinary reasons. They even have the same friends who speak to him and her about the other. ‘The odd thing was that both parties were amenable; it wasn’t a case of their being indifferent, much less of their being indisposed. It was one of the caprices of chance, aided I suppose by some opposition of their interest and habits.’ It’s a shame really. ‘They were so awfully alike: they had the same ideas and tricks and tastes, the same prejudice and superstitions and heresies; they said the same things and sometimes did them; they liked and disliked the same persons and places, the same books, authors and styles; any one could see a certain identity even in their looks and their feature.’ (…) ‘But the great sameness, for wonder and chatter, was their rare perversity in regard to being photographed.’
And after a year they still haven’t met. ‘The right occasion for each was the occasion that would be wrong for the other. On the wrong one they were most punctual, and there were never any but wrong ones. The very elements conspired and the constitution of man reinforced them. A cold, a headache, a bereavement, a storm, a fog, an earthquake, a cataclysm infallibly intervened, The whole business was beyond a joke.’
Finally 5 years later, the man asked the Narrator to marry her, after their long acquaintance. She accepted his offer, only if he were to give her a photograph of himself to put on the mantlepiece. So he gives in. When her friend visits her to congratulate her, she stares at the photograph. And now in position to arrange something for her future husband the Narrator makes an appointment for him and her friend to finally meet. But her friend says she’s afraid. And when the day comes, she had heard that her husband whom she hasn’t seen for seven years, had died. This also stirs an unrest in the Narrator. Still she comes, but the Narrator’s husband doesn’t show, for she herself had left him a note to prevent the meeting from happening. Of course the Narrator feels very guilty when the widow shows, but hides what she has done. Instead the woman confesses that ‘There was some one she wanted so much to see that she couldn’t wait till her husband was buried.’ When she leaves the Narrator asks if she will attend her wedding. ‘“If I am, he won’t be!” she declared with a laugh. (…) “I shall never, never see him!” It was with those words she left me.’
When her husband-to-be hears of this he’s mad and surprised that she would think he would fall in love with her and thus prevented the meeting. ‘He kissed me at this and when I remembered that she had done so an hour or two before I felt for an instant as if he were taking from my lips the very pressure of hers.’
When the next day the Narrator goes to visit her friend to tell her about the deceit as she promised her husband-to-be, she finds that she had died last night. ‘I felt for a moment as if I had killed her.’ When she goes to her husband-to-be to bring the news he is astonished. He said he had seen her standing in his room, that night. “ I saw her living – I saw her to speak to her – I saw her as I see you now!”’ She came to see him at last. But they didn’t speak, she just looked at him; for twenty minutes. They try to retrace her steps from the Narrator’s house to the “Gentlewomen,” to his place, to the train and then her own home. They argue if this could be done. Sure he must have been dreaming. And how if he had never seen her and there’s no photograph of her, would he have known it was her? She ensures him she was dead while he knows she was alive. ‘She’s gone; she’s lost to us for ever: so what does it matter now?” He bent over me, and when his face touched mine I scarcely knew if it were wet with my tears or with his own.’
So the Narrator comes to the conclusion that they still never had “met” when they attend the funeral with mutual friends. The matter isn’t discussed any further between them and each hold their own view. A week before the wedding-day and three weeks after her death the Narrator still has to look something in the face; her jealously. So she sits down with her husband-to-be and says that their situation has altered, that another person has become between them. Because she is not dead to him. His peculiar powers now work against her. She says he still sees her every night, that she comes to him. She wants him to choose between them. Suddenly he says. “How on earth do you know such an awfully private thing?” “You mean because you’ve tried so hard to hide it?” (…) “You love her as you’ve never loved, and, passion for passion, she gives it straight back! She rules you, she holds you, she has you all!” (…) I can renounce you, but I can’t share you; the best of you is hers; I know what it is and I freely give you up to her for ever!”’
‘He made a galant fight, but it couldn’t be patched up; he repeated his denial, he retracted has admission, he ridiculed my charge, of which I freely granted him moreover the indefensible extravagances.’ (…) ‘I didn’t pretend for a moment that he and she were common people. Pray, if they had been, how should I ever have cared for them? They had enjoyed a rare extension of being and they had caught me up in their flight.’
They didn’t marry and never married anyone else. Six years later she hears of his death. ‘(…) it was a response to an irritable call.’
The Way It Came is in a way similar to The Turn of the Screw. It too has an unreliable narrator. Who acts upon her own suspicions. She is jealous and deceives both the man and woman so that they do not meet. It is therefore questionable if the ghost is real, or if it’s just jealousy.
On the other hand both the man and woman have told her about their encounters with a ghost, the woman’s father and the man’s mother. So why shouldn’t the man see the woman when she is dying or has just died. But it’s also questionable if the man and woman are both psychic or that the dead, his mother, her father and now she have a certain gift to appear to those they have loved the most in life. If the former is true, it’s his gift that conjures up her. And if the latter is true, it’s her gift to appear to him. Either way, the Narrator must have always suspected that did the two of them ever should meet, they were bound to be together.
Read more about Henry James:
- Henry James: The Turn of the Screw [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Altar of the Dead [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Beast in the Jungle [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: De Grey A Romance [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Ghostly Rental [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Great Good Place [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Jolly Corner [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Last of the Valerri [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: Owen Wingrave [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Real Right Thing [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Romance of a Certain Od Clothes [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: Sir Edmund Orme [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Third Person [Summary & Analysis]
- The Turn of the Screw (Henry James) review