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  • Henry James
  • Sarah B. Daugherty

The most important event in recent James scholarship has been the publication of the first two volumes of the author's complete letters—a monumental project that will eventually comprise at least 10,423 pieces of correspondence in 140 volumes. (Even James might have welcomed the Internet.) These letters, as well as the second volume of Sheldon M. Novick's biography, confirm James's lifelong ambition as a "happy producer" and literary experimenter despite the conflicts and neuroses highlighted by Leon Edel and other Freudian analysts. In the realm of criticism, readers may discern a productive tension between cultural materialists (notably Kendall Johnson and Thomas J. Otten), who stress the power of things, and idealists (especially Hazel Hutchison and Anna Kventsel), who attempt to redefine Jamesian spirituality. A number of critics elucidate James's ties to global culture. Peter Brooks has written a new study of the author's creative use of his French sources, an anthology documents his past and present reception in Europe, and Laurence Raw devotes a book to the James films, still popular among aficionados.

i Letters, Editions, Biographical Studies

The two volumes of The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855–1872, ed. Pierre A. Walker and Greg W. Zacharias (Nebraska, 2006), contain a limited number of literary references but convey vivid impressions of the author's personality, especially his courage and humor in the face of illness and depression. Alfred Habegger's astute introduction explains [End Page 113] how James adapted his father's ideal of "conversion" to his own creative purposes. He wrote to his brother William following the death of Minny Temple, "It's the living ones that die; the writing ones that survive." The plain-text format chosen by the editors reveals James's cancellations and insertions without sacrificing readability, while the apparatus, featuring a biographical register of friends and correspondents, is designed to inform scholars, teachers, and general readers.

Students of James's later career will welcome Lyall H. Powers's edition of Theodora Bosanquet's Henry James at Work (Michigan, 2006), a revised and annotated version of the memoir published in 1924 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press. As James's amanuensis, Bosanquet could describe the author's methods, notably his habit of soliloquizing about his characters and scenes. Bosanquet's diaries, also included in the volume, further record her bemused reactions to James's departures from convention. (When she met him in London, "he wore green trousers and a blue waistcoat with a yellow sort of check on it and a black coat—that was rather a shock.") Powers concludes the book with an essay on Bosanquet's later career. She fostered James's modern reputation by serving as an aide to Percy Lubbock, as an invaluable source for Leon Edel, and as a reviewer of F. O. Matthiessen's groundbreaking criticism. Her own critiques express admiration of the late style that she knowingly parodied.

Colm Tóibín has edited The New York Stories of Henry James (New York Review, 2006), a collection of eight tales ranging from "The Story of a Masterpiece" (1868) to "The Jolly Corner" (1908). Tóibín's introduction describes James's enduring sense of place and his anger at the threat posed by commercialism. Some writers, says Tóibín, possess minds "like rooms whose electric lights cannot be dimmed or switched off."

Sheldon M. Novick's Henry James: The Mature Master (Random House) complements his Henry James: The Young Master (see AmLS 1996, p. 106). This volume is less controversial than its predecessor because James's later erotic interest in young men is clearly documented in his letters, and because Novick draws attention to points at which the record is suggestive but inconclusive. More important than the issue of homoeroticism is Novick's larger goal: to represent James as "the active, passionate engaged man his contemporaries knew," not as the wistful observer portrayed by Edel and sometimes by James himself. The mature James was too successful to need rescue by later academic critics. Despite the debacle of Guy Domville, such plays as The High Bid and The Outcry [End Page 114] achieved popular success...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 113-138
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-01
Open Access
No
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