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Nicholas Delbanco. Group Portrait: Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, H."G. WeUs. New York: William Morrow, 1982. 224 pp. $11.50. In his biography of Hawthorne, Henry James declared, "The best things come, as a general thing, from talents that are members of a group." Implicit in these words, which Nicholas Delbanco quotes twice in Group Portrait, are the premises of his study ö? literary relationships. He maintains that the five writers—Conrad, Crane, Ford, James, and WeUs-who lived near each other in Kent and East Sussex at the end of the nineteenth century, constituted a group that surpassed in achievement any group of writers in English since then, including the more famous Bloomsbury circle and the writers who gathered in Paris in the 1920s. His central thesis is that the five writers benefited in tangible and intangible ways from their associations with one another and that the work of at least two, Conrad and Ford, was profoundly influenced by their relationship. Delbanco, who has written ten novels, brings to his subject not only weU-defined perceptions of the five writers but also the power to analyze the interplay of different temperaments and so to Uluminate the effects of literary association upon the individual process of creation. In his first chapter, "Figures in a Landscape," he establishes the five writers in relation to each other within the place and period that he believes "caused talent to flourish as rarely before" (19). Writers were drawn to Rye and Winchelsea and the surrounding countryside by the proximity of the region to London, by the beauty and variety of the landscape, and by the charm and historic interest of the coastal towns, in which a mingling of architectural styles seemed a fitting background for the association of diverse literary talents. The five writers lived and worked near one another during years when British imperial power seemed at its height, weU before the outbreak of the First World War. The three central chapters, "Stephen Crane in England," "Conrad and Ford," and "James and WeUs," trace the course of several of the literary relationships among the members of the group. The last chapter , "Group Portrait," enlarges the frame to include the impressions of a contemporary visitor to the places where the five writers lived. Delbanco's book might be described by words quoted from Ford's preface to his Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance; "It is the rendering of an affair intended first of aU to make you see the subject in his scenery" (57). But Group Portrait is also a work of scholarship, and in it the author has distinguished fact from impression, has documented statements, and has striven to discern the truth in the anecdotes and legends he cites. Despite its title, the structure of Group Portrait indicates that it is not a portrait of a group but a study of individual writers in their relationships with one another. The five writers were not members of a school; they did not subscribe to an esthetic program, although James, Ford, Crane, and Conrad were united by their preoccupation with matters of form, style, and narrative techniques, by their conception of fiction as the rendering of personal impressions, by their interest in the symbolic representation of psychological processes, and by their emphasis on the analogy of fiction and painting. The impulse to see the writers as a school came only from Ford, who, years later, in his essay "Techniques," identified himself, Conrad, James, and Crane as the principal members of the Anglo-Saxon school of Impressionism deriving from Flaubert. The five writers were too independent to cast themselves as disciples of a master, although Conrad did address James as cher maître. Indeed, as Delbanco observes, it was the very individuality of these writers and their independence of the London literary establishment lhat drew them together and created in them "a sense of shared endeavor ." Their choice of residence, in itself, indicated their separation from the centers Volume V 70 Number 1 The Henry James Review FaU, 1983 of power of the ruling class. The five writers were also alike in being ambitious and indefatigable producers, moved by strong convictions about...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 70-72
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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