- Novels 1881-1886: "Washington Square," "The Portrait of a Lady," "The Bostonians", and: Literary Criticism: "Essays on Literature," "American Writers," "English Writers", and: Literary Criticism: "French Writers, "Other European Writers," "The Prefaces to the New York Edition", and: James the Critic, and: Henry James: The Writer and His Work, and: Act of Portrayal: Eakins, Sargent, James
Novels 1881-1886 is the second volume of James's novels to be issued in the Library of America format, and the fourth volume of a projected ten in all. The crucial question about any new issue of any James novel (and especially those he revised for inclusion in the New York Edition) is: what text is it? The choices here are all plausible and logical. For Washington Square we have the first English edition (Macmillan 1881); for The Bostonians also the first English edition (Macmillan 1886); The Portrait of a Lady is from the first American edition (Houghton, Mifflin dated 1882 but published in 1881), Only the last is likely to have its detractors because of the New York Edition revisions, but the present choice is surely a right one for a series presenting James's fiction chronologically. Hence the editor's explanation of his choice is compelling; "because its revisions were made soon after composition, and because it represents James's earlier intentions better than the periodical texts." No matter what the reader thinks of the New York Edition revisions—I happen to think that both versions are splendid—the choice of text here is right. Anyone who doubts it should reread the last scene between Isabel Archer and Ralph Touchett.
The two volumes of the Library of America devoted to James's literary criticism are, by themselves, a justification of the whole enterprise. By my count three hundred and six separate items are included in the two volumes, and of this total James did not print in book form two hundred and twenty-eight. (To trace the reprinting of some of the items since James's death would convert this review into a bibliographical essay.) The editors' summary is clear and exact enough; "About one third of the pieces included here have never before been published in book form." Another formulation, on the same pages, might be even better; the two volumes include "the complete literary-critical non-fictional writings of the novelist."
It should be asked if these two volumes aren't too much of a good thing, including as they do many long-forgotten items written about forgotten novelists as James did piecework during the earlier part of his career for several journals, especially The Nation, North American Review, and The Atlantic. What value is there in reprinting James's review of William Rounseville Alger's The Friendships of Women? Or Adeline Dutton Whitney's The Gayworthys: a Story of Threads and Thrums? Or Père Chocarne's The Inner Life of the Very Reverend Père Lacordaire? By themselves, perhaps, not much; but presented as they are here among the more famous reviews [End Page 604] (of Whitman, of Arnold and Browning, of Balzac and Daudet, of Turgenev), they form part of the picture of James's professional life, his development as a critic, and his often very shrewd sense of the occasion. The review of Alger, for example, includes both an...