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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tender And Serene Despair
This novel, in effect, offers a twist upon Shakespeare's line that, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." For Sturgis and for our protagonist, Lord "Sainty" Belchamber:

"The world is like a huge theatrical company in which half the actors and actresses have been cast for the wrong parts."

The book is very reminiscent,...
Published on May 12, 2010 by Daniel Myers

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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a little too much self-pity
This book is too driven by pity for the protagonist -- apparently a stand-in for the author -- but it's very involving.

Sturgis was a protegé of Henry James, who however criticized the novel rather harshly, and it also failed commercially. It was his third and last novel. He was a wealthy English-born son of an American banker, who lived in a country...
Published on July 6, 2009 by Bamber Gascoigne


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tender And Serene Despair, May 12, 2010
By 
Daniel Myers (Greenville, SC USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Belchamber (Paperback)
This novel, in effect, offers a twist upon Shakespeare's line that, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." For Sturgis and for our protagonist, Lord "Sainty" Belchamber:

"The world is like a huge theatrical company in which half the actors and actresses have been cast for the wrong parts."

The book is very reminiscent, in many ways, of some of the works of Sturgis's friend, Henry James, except that, in James, there is always at least a hint at redemption for the main character, usually more sinned against than sinning. In fact, whilst reading the novel, I was continually reminded of the character of Ralph Touchett in A Portrait of a Lady. The difference is that whilst Ralph is taken out of the picture shortly after the off in the James novel, Sainty remains in focus throughout this essentially pessimistic gem of a novel.

Belchamber, published in 1905, is at once a shot across the bow of Victorian mores and Edwardian society, specifically the women in them, the older ones who propagate the former and the younger ones who carouse in the latter. The entire plot of the book might be effectively summed up by a reflection of Sainty's near the end:

"He saw what a puppet he had been in the hands of two strong-willed women, an instrument to satisfy the vulgar ambitions of the one, the angry revenge of the other."

The one thing that struck me as a bit off about the otherwise quite believable novel was Sainty's complete asexuality. One suspects that Sturgis would have liked to make his "hero" homosexual as he himself was, but doing so, of course, would have rendered the novel unpublishable. One suspects the same thing of James - "The nicest old lady I ever met," as Faulkner famously put it - as well.

In the event, we have to make do with the epicene Sainty who suffers no great perturbations of the heart or soul during the entire time the miscast characters of the world work perniciously upon him. When the ultimate tragedy occurs, it actually comes as a sort of relief to Sainty due to its pureness and profundity, untainted by the pettiness of the other, foregoing tragedies, and Sainty is left to reflect upon Shelley's contemplation of the statue of Niobe in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, "her tender and serene despair," as Shelley puts it.

Still, this novel deserves, I think, to be more widely read than it is currently (i.e., not at all) for the language alone, especially in the early going. The heady admixture of French into the English amongst the upper classes reminds one of nothing so much of the English used in the salons in Proust.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, March 17, 2012
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This review is from: Belchamber (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
A couple of times while reading this amazingly neglected novel, I wanted to put it down because of the unlikable protagonist. Others have called him self-pitying, but to this reader his attitude seems closer to self-hatred. If he had really taken pity on himself, he might have acted much sooner to improve his lot. However that may be, I stuck it out to the end (and really it wasn't a great effort; the writing makes the reading a pleasure, no matter how unpleasant the subject). Do, by all means, finish the book, and you'll find out, among other things, what can happen when a "wrong" decision turns out to be exactly what makes everyone happiest.

As one of the cover blurbs points out, it's a book about moral decisions; I would add that it's a book about moral complexity. And this aspect of the novel makes everything about the protagonist's earlier development important and meaningful after all. Capturing human change is a remarkable achievement for any writer, and if he or she succeeds, the reader will also feel transformed. I believe that, on this score, Belchamber succeeds magnificently. I was quite moved.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars criminally overlooked, June 18, 2009
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This review is from: Belchamber (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Edith Wharton and Henry James should be taking a few uneasy turns in their graves for their damning silence on BELCHAMBER. According to Edmund White's excellent preface to this perceptive, unsparing novel, they were his friends and frequent guests yet neither came to his rescue when the critics took the ax to BELCHAMBER. No wonder, it was decades ahead of its time in its appreciation of its effeminate central character, not to mention its depiction of upper class cruelty.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Belchamber is a lost gem, June 27, 2014
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This review is from: Belchamber (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Beautifully written, sardonic intriguing and underrated. Henry James' contention that Sainty is a 'poor rat' is comprehensible, but viewed differently- the character has resonances of Prince Mishkin
(Dostoyevsky's passive but profound 'Idiot').
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a little too much self-pity, July 6, 2009
This review is from: Belchamber (Paperback)
This book is too driven by pity for the protagonist -- apparently a stand-in for the author -- but it's very involving.

Sturgis was a protegé of Henry James, who however criticized the novel rather harshly, and it also failed commercially. It was his third and last novel. He was a wealthy English-born son of an American banker, who lived in a country house keeping a popular gay literary salon in the 1890s and 1900s, seeing a lot of James and Edith Wharton, and later a bit of EM Forster who seems to be the only one to really like this novel until recently.

The first half is great, about the trials of an effiminate and pure-hearted heir to a great noble house who copes with the paradox of power and powerlessness. The second half, after he's maneuvered into marrying a truly awful woman, works less well: the characters become less believable and the focus on pitying the protagonist becomes tiresome.
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Belchamber (New York Review Books Classics)
Belchamber (New York Review Books Classics) by Howard Overing Sturgis (Paperback - March 4, 2008)
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