ATTACHMENT I: Genesis of the Big Idea

ATTACHMENT I – Genesis of the Big Idea.

From Henry James, “Preface to The Spoils of Poynton.”

It was years ago, I remember, one Christmas Eve when I was dining with friends: a lady beside me made in the course of talk one of those allusions that I have always found myself recognising on the spot as “germs.” The germ, wherever gathered, has ever been for me the germ of a “story,” and most of the stories straining to shape under my hand have sprung from a single small seed, a seed as minute and wind-blown as that casual hint for “The Spoils of Poynton” dropped unwittingly by my neighbour, a mere floating particle in the stream of talk. What above all comes back to me with this reminiscence is the sense of the inveterate minuteness, on such happy occasions, of the precious particle—reduced, that is, to its mere fruitful essence. ….

So it was, at any rate, that when my amiable friend, on the Christmas Eve, before the table that glowed safe and fair through the brown London night, spoke of such an odd matter as that a good lady in the north, always well looked on, was at daggers drawn with her only son, ever hitherto exemplary, over the ownership of the valuable furniture of a fine old house just accruing to the young man by his father’s death, I instantly became aware, with my “sense for the subject,” of the prick of inoculation; the whole of the virus, as I have called it, being infused by that single touch. There had been but ten words, yet I had recognised in them, as in a flash, all the possibilities of the little drama of my “Spoils,” which glimmered then and there into life.