- Henry James
This year marks a transition in James studies. A number of books and essays—notably Philip Horne's valuable Life in Letters—include previously unpublished correspondence. We may look forward, then, to the Nebraska edition of the complete letters, which will establish a larger, if not a firmer, groundwork for interpretation. The year's most provocative book, by Wendy Graham, builds on the scholarship of Freudians, New Historians, and queer theorists to present James as a deeply conflicted writer who could neither affirm homosexuality nor yield to heterosexual convention. But James's sexuality, and the more important topic of the connections between his life and his fiction, are still the subject of lively debate. A related trend is critics' increased attention to the experimental writings of the 1890s, which are the focus of a special issue of HJR. Uncannily, James anticipates our present theories while also exposing their limitations. Future critics, considering both the private man and the public author, may develop more subtle syntheses. Yet, as Susan Griffin memorably writes, the inscrutable James will continue to present us with "a mirror, a model—and a turned back."
i Editions, Letters, Biographical Studies
The Library of America has added three volumes to its useful edition of James's Complete Stories: 1864–1874, with a chronology and textual notes by Jean Strouse; 1874–1884, ed. William L. Vance; and 1884–1891, ed. Edward Said. A compact volume, Henry James: Major Stories and Essays, ed. Leon Edel et al., includes 10 of the most famous tales, six critiques of other writers, "The Art of Fiction," and the Preface to The Portrait of a Lady.
Another edition for students and general readers is Collected Stories [End Page 123] (Knopf), selected and introduced by John Bayley. Volume 1 (1866–91) contains 22 tales, from "A Landscape Painter" to "Sir Edmund Orme"; volume 2 (1892–1910), 29 stories, from "The Private Life" to "A Round of Visits."
Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene, ed. Pierre A. Walker (Nebraska), contains 18 selections, some of them (notably those on British geopolitics) never before reprinted. In an introductory essay, Walker supports Ross Posnock's view of James as an ambivalent observer, especially resistant to identity politics at the expense of "discrimination." Walker also describes James's historionic self-presentation in his occasional adoption of "the role of recluse and reluctant interviewee."
Philip Horne's Henry James: A Life in Letters (Viking) usefully revives a neglected genre. As editor, Horne supplies narrative links with a view to the interests of recent critics, but he wisely allows James to speak for himself. The previously unpublished letters (about half of the 296 selections) contain some real gems, as when James expresses his scorn for French novelists ("ces messieurs . . . have lost the perception of anything in nature but the genital organs") or his envy of Howells ("a very much bigger & easier & cheaper . . . & above all more perpetually serialised worker than H.J.").
A collection with a more personal focus is Dear Munificent Friends: Henry James's Letters to Four Women, ed. Susan E. Gunter (Michigan). Gunter, an editor of Nebraska's on-line calendar of James's correspondence, has selected representative letters to Alice Gibbens James, William's wife and Henry's frequent confidant; Mary Cadwalader Jones, who shared James's concern over the marital unhappiness of her sister-in-law, Edith Wharton; Mary Butcher Prothero, who helped James with his move from Rye to London and nursed him through his final illness; and Lady Louise Wolseley, the wife of the famous British commander and the recipient of James's most flirtatious prose. Though these letters seldom refer to the fiction, they do reveal how the author "experiment[ ed] with intimacy in a culturally sanctioned fashion."
A less thoughtful book, despite its analysis of archival material, is Lyndall Gordon's A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art (Norton, 1998). Gordon treats the women, Minny Temple and Constance Fenimore Woolson, as subjects in their own right, not merely as objects of James's interest; and especially in Woolson's case, Gordon demonstrates the ruthlessness of his appropriations and...