The Suffragette


Henry James (1843–1916)
Autograph letter, signed, to Charles Hagberg Wright, 7 May 1914
Private collection

By the end of June 1913, after approximately ten sittings, Sargent  finished his oil portrait of James. When it was first publicly exhibited at London’s Royal Academy, on 4 May 1914, a suffragette named Mary Wood attacked the portrait with a meat cleaver. Wood badly damaged the canvas in three places. In a letter to his friend Jessie Allen, James reported ruefully that “she got at me thrice over before the tomahawk was stayed. I naturally feel very scalped and disfigured.” On 7 May, he wrote this letter to Wright, librarian of the London Library, reflecting that he really owed “the vicious hag & her ravage a good mark for having led to my hearing from you.”


A letter from Henry James to Charles Hagberg Wright.
Lamb House. Rye, Sussex, May the 7th, 1914.

My Dear, Dear Hagberg,
I am deeply moved by your generous letter and have only not assured you of this sooner because of the accursed fury with a cleaver has been the cause of a huge amplification of my daily or hourly postal matter. I've been rather snowed under, condolingly, but I'm now emerging and really owe the vicious hag and her ravage a good mark for having led to my hearing from you in such a particularly beautiful state. The ravage was great but it appears that, very wonderfully, it can be made good to all probability by some master restorer into his hands that is already being put.