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PD James

From the American Spectator --

Novelist and life peer P. D. James, since 1991 Baroness James of Holland Park, died peacefully at her Oxford, England home Thursday at 94. It’s fitting that she should leave us on Thanksgiving Day. Readers and friends of civilization everywhere have reason to be thankful for her long, productive, and well-examined life. And thankful for the literary riches she leaves behind.

. . .In her early writing life, which began during her long civil service career, first in Britain’s National Health Service and later in the Home Office, Mrs. James said she thought she would write a mystery or two just to get published, then turn to more “serious” work later. But she quickly changed her mind. As she tells it:

“I came to believe that it is perfectly possible to remain within the constraints and conventions of the genre and be a serious writer, saying something true about men and women and their relationships and the society in which they live.”

Just so. She accomplished this at the highest levels for decades in novels with titles such as A Mind to Murder, Unnatural Causes, A Certain Justice, Death in Holy Orders, Devices and Desires, and my favorites, Original Sin and Death of an Expert Witness. Her work calls to mind the assertion of her homonym, though probably not a relation, Henry James, who said the purpose of a novel should be “to help the human heart to know itself.”

Mrs. James’ long life and career — she published her final novel at age 90 — helped her to distinguish what is eternal from what is ephemeral. Though some liberal critics have taken a jaundiced view of her conservative values, Mrs. James’ work has a psychological complexity that raises it above political partisanship. Even though her characters wrestle with the issues of the day, her stories are literature, not political or cultural polemics.

. . .For all her literary success and prizes and titles, Mrs. James always remained dignified but humble. She was warm and friendly but knew the uses of reticence. She usually asked interviewers to call her Phyllis rather than Mrs. James or Baroness. She was compassionate but not sentimental. She had so many of the qualities and virtues that are brought to mind by the word civilisation.

Ave atque Vale.

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