Henry James continues to fascinate a relatively small circle of readers in ways that reflect at once the amazingly detailed or "done" quality of his fiction and his ability as a man and as a writer to tease the imagination and stimulate the intellect. Few American writers have been as well documented as James has been, and yet no Jamesian will regret the appearance now of a James encyclopedia, a new approach to the puzzle of The Turn of the Screw, a close examination of the Rye years, or one more collection of scholarly essays on the man Leon Edel has called the only "fully realized" American artist.
Robert Gale's A Henry James Encyclopedia is a truly extraordinary and useful work. Daniel Mark Fogel has rightly called it "the greatest single compilation of knowledge about Henry James and about James's world" since the Edel biography. Here in one volume the master's friends, colleagues, characters, and works are identified and placed in context. Few aspects of James's career are overlooked, and each entry is thoroughly researched.
As a sometimes Jamesian with a particular interest in what might be considered the relatively peripheral area of James's French connections, my impulse was to test the depth of this encyclopedia by turning to such entries as "Alphonse Daudet" and "Pierre Loti." I was in no way disappointed. Gale has not only read his James on Daudet and Loti as well as his James on much more important French figures such as Balzac and Flaubert, but he is also familiar with the works of Daudet and Loti and Balzac and Flaubert themselves, and he understands what James learned from and appreciated in his French colleagues.
The same thoroughness has been applied to other aspects of James's life and work. This is no shallow listing of the master's characters, influences, short stories, plays, novels, friends, and relatives. It is at once a James dictionary and a collection of abbreviated essays on James. Thus, Dolcino Ambient, for instance, gets only a line as the "delicate little son of Mark and Beatrice Ambient" in "The Author of Beltraffio," but nine pages are devoted to a careful examination of The American Scene, the late collection of American travel essays.
In a book that contains over 3000 entries, room for analysis is necessarily limited, but Gale seems to have a remarkably true sense of where to place his emphasis. There are, of course, bound to be some differences of opinion with the author of a book such as this one. Some entries will inevitably be found to be too limited, others too detailed. It might be suggested that space used for minor connections—Sir Arthur Helps and John Gibson, for example—could have been more profitably used in longer entries on such seminal characters as Lambert Strether and Milly Theale. It could also be said that insufficient space leads to a necessary lack of depth and, therefore, given James's kind of writing, in which [End Page 543] complex mental processes are the subject matter, to some inaccuracy, especially in the descriptions of the late novels. But these are quibbles rather than serious complaints. The Henry James Encyclopedia is a thoroughly useful and intelligent work. It is a necessary addition to any Jamesian's or any university library's collection.
Peter Beidler's Ghosts, Demons, and Henry James, a continuation of the seemingly endless argument over the central issues of The Turn of the Screw, is also a must for James scholars. It is a surprising book because its unfashionable argument is so convincing...