My own fears are the blackest, and at the prospect of losing my wonderful beloved brother out of the world in which, from as far back as in dimmest childhood, I have so yearningly always counted on him, I feel nothing but the abject weakness of grief and even terror; but I forgive myself "weakness"—my emergence from the long and grim ordeal of my own peculiarly dismal and trying illness isn't yet absolutely complete enough to make me wholly firm on my feet. But my slowly recuperative process goes on despite all shakes and shocks, while dear William's, in the full climax of his intrinsic powers and intellectual ambitions, meets this tragic, cruel arrest. However, dear Grace, I won't further wail to you in my nervous soreness and sorrow—still, in spite of so much revival, more or less under the shadow as I am of the miserable, damnable year that began for me last Christmas-time and for which I had been spoiling for two years before. I will only wait to see you—with all the tenderness of our long, unbroken friendship and all the host of our common initiations.

I wonder what does the bolded initiation mean in this context. Could it be a kind of ordeal?

This is from Henry James's letter and I put the link to the whole letter here.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 18:03
  • The entire letter isn't visible when I use the link above. It's at Project Guttenberg. Just do a page find for some of the text.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 14:22
  • 1
    Unless we read the book, we can't know. It's anything they started doing together.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 17:09

2 Answers 2


From Lexico:

The action of beginning something.

He's looking forward to beginning new activities together, in addition to their "long, unbroken friendship".


"Initiation" is used figuratively to refer to the first time someone started to have some "life experience" - e.g. upon becoming a parent for the first time, the onset of a serious illness for the first time, having to care, for the first time, for someone who is ill, drinking alcohol in a bar for the first time, taking up a sport, being arrested by the police, starting service in the armed forces, etc. etc. etc.

Common initiations are initiations which both the writer and the person being written to have both experienced especially, but not necessarily, if they experienced them together or at roughly the same time.

So basically the writer is saying "We have been through a lot together over many years and I am very much looking forward to seeing you my dear friend".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.