restricted access "Friction with the Market": Henry James and the Profession of Authorship, and: The Muse of Henry James (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael Anesko. "Friction with the Market": Henry James and the Profession of Authorship. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 258 pp. $22.95.
E. C. Curtsinger. The Muse of Henry James. Mansfield: Latitudes, 1986. 133 pp. $15.00.

These two studies of Henry James are as dissimilar as two books can be. Michael Anesko's "Friction with the Market" is a thoroughly researched examination of James's relationship with his publishers. It demonstrates how sensitively attuned James was to the conditions of the marketplace and his efforts to use them to his economic and professional advantage. In The Muse of Henry James, E. C. Curtsinger presents an idiosyncratic, symbolic reading of James's fiction. The quote from which Michael Anesko drew his title, "that benefit of friction with the market which is so true a one for solitary artists too much steeped in their mere personal dreams," indicates both the tension and the distance between these two books.

As Michael Anesko amply illustrates, James, in his long career, witnessed basic changes in the publishing industry in both the United States and Britain. When Howells accepted James's first publication and paid him with "dazzling promptitude," their relationship still had about it a gentlemanly, almost dilletantish aura. Here the friction was minimal, but it increased as publishing houses became more competitive and the relationship between James and his publishers became more a matter of the terms of the contract than an assumed code of conduct. James even lived to see the emergence of the literary agent and to make use of his services. To record this change is one of the services Anesko has rendered us.

Moving to material more directly relevant to James, Anesko gives substantial answers to two topics: first, the record of payment James received from the publishers for his work, and second, James's reaction to the dwindling public response to his writing. The two topics are interrelated and ultimately affect James's basic motivations as an artist. Because we know that James's income from his writing was vital to his welfare, when Anesko gives us annual records of publisher's payments, broken down as to their source, and demonstrates that the Americans paid better than the British and that periodical publication was more profitable than books, then we are in debt to Anesko for explaining, in large part, James's motivation for publishing his work where and when he did. The second topic, James's relation with his reading public, is less easily explained by publisher's ledgers, but in letters written by James and others and in James's own fiction Anesko finds evidence enabling him to describe that uneasy relationship with its wide fluctuation between being lionized and being neglected, between championing art and professionalism and writing potboilers, willing to do battle with [End Page 307] publishers but never quite at ease with a public he both sought and shunned. Though in general we know much of this, Anesko's presentation corrects some wrong emphases and clarifies just how deftly and with what determination James pursued this struggle.

Most of the evidence Anesko accumulated is useful historically, and it is his rendition of that history that is the major achievement of his book. As a reader of texts he is equally astute. Beginning with The Portrait of a Lady and moving through The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, and The Tragic Muse, Anesko demonstrates James's imaginative working out in his fiction of those same vexing problems of the marketplace that he was struggling with in his professional life. Anesko looks most carefully at The Bostonians, which he reads as James's reaction to a growing public vulgarity and the accommodations his characters made to it.

Anesko uses the final chapter of his book to examine the making of James's New York Edition of his collected works. This edition is probably the most striking monument to James's fame created in his lifetime, but the making of it illustrates perhaps more vividly than any other Anesko thesis that the "friction with the market" was a strong determinant in James's thinking. The final form of the New York Edition can...


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