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Sarah B. Daugherty. The Literary Criticism of Henry James. Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 1981. 232 pp. $16.95 In the Preface to The Literary Criticism of Henry James, Sarah Daugherty examines a number of the previous books that have dealt with the subject and remarks: "one can hardly help wishing that someone might lay hands on the whole beast in th,is jungle of criticism, writing not of the American or the British or the French Henry James but of the author whose interests spanned three national literatures and a far greater number of schools within each of these." She lists the titles of James's five critical works (French Poets and Novelists [1878], Hawthorne [1879], Partial Portraits [1888"ΠEssays in London and Elsewhere [1893], and Notes on Novelists [1914]) and adds that he wrote more than 150 essays and reviews many of which have never been collected: "A number of scholars, recognizing the importance of this material, have dealt with it in some detail; but generally, their studies have been too cursory or have dwelt too much on the limitations of James's taste and theories. Thus, there is still a place for a more complete reading of the essays and reviews which establish his place in literary history. Such a study cannot be totally inclusive: it cannot discuss the books that James read but did not write about, and it cannot deal directly with his Prefaces, which must be treated in conjunction with his own fiction. Nevertheless, it may aid the reader in understanding why the author wrote as he did and how his novels may be related to those of his predecessors." Thus the aim and raison d'etre of this book; and thus, too, its strength and its weakness. The strength is in the meticulous and detailed reading (predominantly in chronological order) of James's essays and reviews, with an eye to the telling quotation which will illuminate James's thinking about literature and criticism. In successive chapters, Ms. Daugherty tracks James through his critical writings, beginning with "Criticism of Fiction, 1864-1868," running through "The Naturalists" (Flaubert, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Zola), "The Social Novelists" (Balzac, Daudet, Dickens), "The Psychological Novelists" (Eliot, Trollope, Turgenev), "The Romancers" (Sand and Hawthorne), and "The American Scene: Hawthorne's Successors." Still other chapters follow, until chronology is exhausted. From all this material, Ms. Daugherty culls comments from James that sometimes sparkle, sometimes fizzle, and sometimes plop. But whether they sparkle, fizzle, or plop, they will prove of interest to anyone fascinated by the critical development of one of the two or three most brilliant and original American novelists (only Melville and Faulkner can be placed in the same league). The weakness of Ms. Daugherty's approach is that often James's line of development gets lost in the details that accumulate in such great quantities. Indeed at times they seem on the verge of swamping the whole enterprise. But the enterprise does stay afloat, and it is often the accumulated details that offer the greatest rewards for the persistent reader. There are, as there ought to be in any worthwhile book on James, statements that provoke resistance. The references to James's essay "The Art of Fiction" are often thus provocative: "The title of that essay, echoing Besant's, leads one to anticipate a theoretical statement, a formulation of general principles; and it seems probable that James was trying, at least tentatively, to attain that end. But the reader soon recognizes the vagueness of James's ideas, concluding that he was at his best when dealing with specific THE HENRY JAMES REVIEW 151 WINTER, 1983 examples—an insight that he himself seems to have gained once 'The Art of Fiction' was written. This would account for his dismissal of the essay, in his letter to Stevenson, as 'simply a plea for liberty,' and for his apparent unwillingness in subsequent years to deal with fiction so comprehensively . . . ." Ms. Daugherty does not come to terras with the complexity of James's ideas in "The Art of Fiction," even though she devotes an entire chapter to it. And her book is weakened by refusing to treat James's Prefaces to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 151-152
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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