Wm & H'ry
Literature, Love, and the Letters between Wiliam and Henry James
Publication Year: 2013
William and Henry James served as each other’s muse and critic. For instance, the event of the death of Mrs. Sands illustrates what H’ry never stated: even if the “matter” of his fiction was light, the minds behind it lived and died as though it was very heavy indeed. He seemed to best understand this himself only after Wm fully fleshed out his system. “I can’t now explain save by the very fact of the spell itself . . . that [Pragmatism] cast upon me,” H’ry wrote in 1907. “All my life I have . . . unconsciously pragmatised.”
Wm was never able to be quite so gracious in return. In 1868, he lashed out at the “every day” elements of two of H’ry’s early stories, and then explained: “I have uttered this long rigmarole in a dogmatic manner, as one speaks, to himself, but of course you will use it merely as a mass to react against in your own way, so that it may serve you some good purpose.” He believed he was doing H’ry a service as he criticized a growing tendency toward “over-refinement” or “curliness” of style. “I think it ought to be of use to you,” he wrote in 1872, “to have any detailed criticism fm even a wrong judge, and you don’t get much fm. any one else.” For the most part, H’ry agreed. “I hope you will continue to give me, when you can, your free impression of my performance. It is a great thing to have some one write to one of one’s things as if one were a 3d person & you are the only individual who will do this.”
Published by: University of Iowa Press
Series: Muse Books
Title Page, Copyright Page
To Whom It May Concern
On September 7, 1861 , having lately abandoned a dream of life as an artist and enrolled in Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School, Wm set out from his new, strange, rented room in Cambridge and walked mechanically to the P.O., hoping against all hope to find a letter from his brother. His box was empty. ...
They wrote frequently, with zeal, of illness, of intestines, of parasites, of orthopedic mystery. In 1867, when Wm made passage to France on the Great Eastern, H’ry couldn’t wait for the first letter to arrive from Paris before writing himself. He was uninterested in impressions of the city. ...
On October 13, 1867 , H’ry scribbled out a quick reply to Wm’s previous two letters. The first of these had described a battle with dysentery that Wm had waged after a country rest, and the second made a peculiar request: could H’ry please obtain a perfect sphenoid bone and send it at once to Cambridge? ...
A chair in Stevenson’s house became known as the “Henry James chair” in honor of H’ry’s frequent visits— which maybe explains why Stevenson escaped criticism in “The Lesson of Balzac.” Or perhaps there was genuine admiration. In 1888, H’ry claimed that what was most delightful about Stevenson, like Balzac, was his “constant variety of experiment.” ...
“Whirl” returns to Shakespeare, whose influence for Wm stretched all the way back to his very first letter, and who, for H’ry, was so “immense” that one “need not press the case of his example.” The letters cite Shakespeare often, without quotation marks, such as when H’ry, in 1893, complained of an overfull work schedule and social obligations: ...
On April 26, 1869 , H’ry began a letter from Oxford that would take him four days to complete. He was replying to a malaise that Wm had been suffering for some time at home, having been laid low by his back psychologic light on your creative process.” Here, H’ry had acknowledged that his goal in the story of a dying young woman ...
In February 1874—just a few months before H’ry waxed impressionistically from his Florentine window—Wm and H’ry had traveled in Italy together. One day, Wm visited Venice’s Galleria dell’Accademia and sat for a long time before Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple. ...
This last description seems almost to cite a plaintive remark Wm once made to H’ry as his career trajectory in science and academia began to take shape. Painting was slipping farther and farther away: ...
H’ry took his cue from Balzac. Eugenie Grandet’s eponymous heroine, for example, comes from “a class of females found in the middle ranks of life, whose beauty appears vulgar.” But Eugenie is not vulgar herself: “There was nothing pretty about Eugenie; she was beautiful with that beauty so easily overlooked, and which the artist alone catches.” ...
What Wm would have recognized from this was that H’ry’s reaction to his vulgar audience was in itself a vulgar act—or would have been had he shared his impressions with anyone else. More important, H’ry’s precise problem was that the vulgar taste of his audience matched perfectly the vulgar aesthetic ...
H’ry had better relationships with women in his fiction than in real life. The letters, however, offer no refuge to the cauldrons of ink that have been spilled by critical covens endlessly toiling over the brew of H’ry’s sexual orientation. Even on the subject of Wilde’s imprisonment, H’ry lets slip nothing to Wm —the audience to whom he slipped everything else. ...
H’ry’s preface to 1888’s The Reverberator (Wm: “Masterly and exquisite. . . . I quite squealed through it”) tells a story of H’ry’s having once wintered in Venice with a group of twenty friends whose primary occupation was “infinite talk, talk mainly, inexhaustibly, about persons and the ‘personal equation’ and the personal mystery.” ...
The problem with Wm and H’ry’s “bottled-lightning” sister, Alice, seems to have been an inability to unstopper herself. Alice had the same mind as her favored brothers, and the great biographical question of her life is whether her intellectual talents went overlooked in the James family dynamic because she was sickly, ...
A decade later, as renowned as he would ever become but still smarting from the theater, H’ry began to feel the pressures of a too-active social life. Fame and family had produced a near endless string of visitors and dining obligations. His work was suffering as a result. In early February 1896, he attended a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research ...
The death of Mrs. Sands illustrates what H’ry never stated: even if the “matter” of his fiction was light, the minds behind it lived and died as though it was very heavy indeed. He seemed to best understand this himself only after Wm fully fleshed out his system. ...
On August 8, 1900, Wm related an embarrassing story. Throughout the summer, while traveling through Europe with his wife—named Alice, like the sister—he suffered from a range of symptoms: nervousness, heart trouble. He needed help, but didn’t know where to turn. ...
In August 1889—a dozen years before the plague of Meltonian blisters—Wm returned to Boston after a long, lone trip to Europe. It was just at that moment when his life had begun to settle in. The Principles of Psychology was almost complete, and teaching offered financial security and a comfortable routine. ...
In Carqueiranne, at a quieter moment, Wm and Frederic Myers sat together with Mrs. Thompson and asked her what the future held. She predicted that Wm would soon recover from his various illnesses, and that Myers would be dead within two years. The men laughed, as the reverse seemed much more likely. ...
Wm may have preferred that H’ry write only of the literal, but that didn’t mean he was incapable of metaphoric or figurative language himself, particularly when it came to water imagery. In 1899, reacting to the warmongering of Governor Teddy Roosevelt, Wm leveled a charge of abstractness in the Boston Evening Transcript. ...
In 1877, H’ry reviewed a newly published two-volume set of Balzac’s letters. He was embarrassed by the books. Balzac was coarse, driven by egotism, ungraceful, and blind to all but his personal concerns and ambition. “The contents . . . are so private, so personal,” H’ry wrote, “that the generous critic constantly lays them down with a sort of dismay, ...
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