In an issue of Common Knowledge given over to experiments in scholarly form and to the discussion of them, this piece is one of three on the genre of microhistory. The other two (by Natalie Zemon Davis and Sir Keith Thomas) argue the merits and demerits of the genre, while this piece seeks to exemplify both its virtues and its risks. To show how microhistory offers intense deliberation on a narrowly defined topic, yet also a kind of hastiness — an impatience with demands for broader scope — Colin Richmond examines one limited facet of the relationship between two Americans resident in England at the turn of the last century: the novelist Henry James and the painter Edwin Austin Abbey. Detailed evidence is mustered to document James's love of fresh hens' eggs and of the undignified lengths he would go to obtain them through the agency of Abbey and his wife. This short piece is written as if a parable, and while its moral goes unstated, the reader's attention is drawn to the unsettled question of whether James exerted maximal effort for minimal results, or whether he knew something about the value of freshness undreamed of by those more patient and dignified in pursuing their desires.
Colin Richmond; Deliberation and Precipitation: Fresh Eggs, C. 1890 – C. 1910. Common Knowledge 1 January 2014; 20 (1): 11–13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2374835
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