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In two recent projects on Henry James, the editorial team of Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers and the literary critic Richard Freadman have turned to the past in order to contribute to the future. Edel and Powers have gone back to James's surviving papers in order to expand and update the Matthiessen-Murdock edition of his Notebooks; Freadman has joined James with George Eliot in order to argue for the enduring importance of a liberal humanism that has come increasingly under fire in recent years.
Although the title The Complete Notebooks of Henry James is technically a misnomer (some notebooks having long since been destroyed), few readers will fault the new edition's amplitude. Besides the nine notebooks and three other items that Matthiessen and Murdock brought together, Edel and Powers present eleven more texts, plus all James's pocket diaries and even his cash accounts. Moreover, previous textual errors have been corrected, and previously unglossed references have, in many cases, been noted.
The Edel-Powers edition is not simply larger than the Matthiessen-Murdock; it is also different in two ways. Its organization is less exclusively chronological than its predecessor's. Three sections present different types of texts (notebooks, diaries, dictations); sections one and three are then subdivided according to theme or audience. The advantage to this format is the focus it provides. By grouping together, for example, the notebooks transcribed by James during his returns to America in 1881 and 1904, the editors facilitate comparison of his early and late perceptions of his native land. In terms of editorial apparatus, Edel and Powers present headnotes helpful to both scholarly and general readers. The editors resolutely decline, however, to attempt what Matthiessen and Murdock did so well—convey the drama of James's creative process by relating his germinal moments to the flowering of his finished fictions. Every Jamesian will want to own the Complete Notebooks, but from time to time many scholars will, I suspect, find themselves stealing back to Matthiessen and Murdock for the synthetic intuitions available to editors who were such fine critics.
Looking back to Eliot and James in order to establish the viability of humanism for contemporary culture, Richard Freadman confronts Marxist and post- Saussurean opponents with a learned and supple self-awareness. He disavows naive essentialism (and any direct ties with the figure who haunts his argument, F. R. Leavis) and, drawing upon such recent British thinkers as G. J. Warnock, C. B. Macpherson, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Iris Murdoch, advocates a middle position between simple espousal of "the individual" and any equally simple surrender to an all-shaping society. "Systems (social and textual) constitute selves but are also dialectically constituted by them." The "textual" is bracketed with the "social" here because literary criticism is admirably one with politics for Freadman. Text interacts with society as self does with reality. Opposing any "postSaussurean theory . . . that a text, too, is part of a larger system of structure whose relation to any extra-textual 'reality' either is not an issue or is arbitrary," Freadman insists that "the writer infuses his or her public medium with an individual sensibility that extends and subtilises it." To critics long since tired of [End Page 231] the glittery poststructuralist games that have passed for thinking in our thought-poor profession, Freadman's attempt to reconnect the creative imagination with social determinants seems promising indeed.
To fulfill such promise, to demonstrate the viability of humanism today, Freadman locates Eliot and James in the development of philosophy from Kant to Heidegger and Sartre. "With this [liberal-humanist] image they [Eliot and James] are essentially in sympathy; however, in probing it they evoke alternative premises that we would now associate with existentialism and phenomenology." At stake is less whether readers accept this contention than whether they see what difference it makes. In other words, liberal humanism will...