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“Levity” is not a word often applied to Henry James, but this story has about it an attractively lighthearted quality. It tells of Peter Baron, a poor, young struggling writer of adequate, if not transcendent, talent, who lives in a dreary London boarding house inhabited also by a mysteriously clairvoyant and beautiful young widow, with her small boy. When Baron buys himself a second-hand writing desk to stimulate the creative juices, he finds carefully hidden within it a cache of letters that appear to compromise a recently deceased statesman. The discovery and his struggle to handle the questions they pose ultimately change his life. Along the way he also discovers, as a fringe benefit, a talent for what Americans (though probably not Jamesians) call Tin Pan Alley.
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