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The Expanding Henry James Archive

From: The Henry James Review
Volume 33, Number 1, Winter 2012
pp. 85-91 | 10.1353/hjr.2012.0003

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Jacques Derrida feared the day when tens of thousands of pages of his unpublished work, his "remains," might be inaccessible or ignored in the "archive." When that happened, J. Hillis Miller tells us, Derrida thought that he would be forgotten and he would, in effect, die. Miller gives a witness's account: "When Derrida saw his catalogued manuscripts in the [University of California] Irvine library, neatly and professionally stored in long rows of gray cardboard file boxes, he said, 'They look like so many tombstones!'" (80; see also Derrida, Archive). Perhaps this fear is one explanation for Derrida's way of conceptualizing the archive, which not only holds work contained in it but also possesses the mechanism for shutting away anything it contains so that it (and the person who produced it) can be forgotten. Perhaps such a conception of the archive informed or was related to Derrida's idea for "the university without condition," where, by allowing all ideas to live on an equal footing, the "university" enables them to remain alive rather than being boxed away and forgotten, effectively killed by the very institution that sought to preserve them (Derrida, "Future"). The Henry James archive may be in the process of transformation from the one that Derrida feared to the one that he promoted.

James understood at least in part the importance of encouraging an open archive like Derrida's university without condition, since "[a]rt lives upon discussion, . . . upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints" (EL 44-45). Just so, James's reputation and status have widened and deepened as the borders of James Studies continue to extend far beyond where they stood fifty or even twenty years ago. Thus the more territory James Studies covers, the wider the archive becomes. As Michael Anesko writes of the "recuperation of lost material" (xi), "[l]iterary scholarship in our own time calls more and more for the enlargement of perspective and the necessity for adapting our reading practices to dismantle the narrower limits of nationalist traditions" (xii). Evidence of that enlargement and adaptation also can be seen in Peter Beidler's The Collier's Weekly Version of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, Amy Tucker's The Illustration of the Master: Henry James and the Magazine Revolution, and Ellen E. Rand's Dear Females. That only Tucker's book was published by a traditional academic press is a significant feature of the James archive.

The publication of important work on James by Beidler and Rand through a trade publisher (Coffeetown Press) and a self-publishing venture, signals the openness and growth in the James archive. Supplementing the tendency through most of the twentieth century to privilege critical/"final intention" editions published long after James's death at the expense of texts published during James's lifetime, Beidler's edition of "The Turn of the Screw" works to bring readers closer to the illustrated serial from Collier's Weekly. This is a reading experience that had been, until Beidler's book, virtually buried for more than a century. The recovery of the serialized and illustrated version provides insight to James's readership and to the nature of his professional life. Paul Eggert's demonstration of the importance of the reading context, including how, when, and where a text is read, in the determination of meaning, is only one way to think about the significance in favor of Beidler's edition (7-10). Beidler's useful introduction helps readers apprehend the reading expectations and practices of those who might have opened Collier's in 1898. At the same time, it strives (and succeeds in many ways) to find the delicate point where the needs of first-time student readers meet those of practiced scholars. The introduction includes an overview of James's writing for Collier's; an orientation to Collier's niche in the illustrated magazine market ("Collier's Weekly at the end of the nineteenth century was much more tabloid-like than the magazine it was later to become" [xviii]); a summary overview of the particular styles of the Collier's illustrators and the typical relation of illustrations to text; a short course on the...

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