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The "London" Book by John L. Kimmey, University of South Carolina Books planned by authors but never written have in most instances only an academic interest. Although it is intriguing to speculate on what they might have been, the fact is they do not exist. The case of James's proposed work on London is different. By the time he signed the contract with Macmillan on June 22, 1903, for a volume of 150,000 words to be illustrated by Joseph Pennell, not only had he determined the kind of book he wanted to write, "a romantical-psychological-pictorial 'social' London (of the general form, length, pitch, and 'type' of Marion Crawford's Ave Roma Immortalis)," but also he had written extensively on the subject for a number of years.1 As he explained to Edmund Gosse, he would start with Westminster and (as Gosse explains) "circle out concentrically to the City and the suburbs."2 It is the approach he takes in most of his London essays. Beginning with the central areas, he moves out in a wider and wider arc to embrace eventually the whole metropolis and its environs from Greenwich to Richmond and Bushy Park. The projected work, then, was not the "ghost among the realities of Henry James's invention" that Gosse called it." Nor was it something he conceived merely to make money, though he was guaranteed 20% of the royalties and a 1,000 pound advance upon delivery of the manuscript. It was to be his most important and comprehensive treatment of a subject that had occupied him throughout his life. In this way it resembles another work he was contemplating at the time and did finish, The American Scene (1907), a distillation of ideas and impressions of his country based on a visit of eleven months. In fact, during the course of the American book he frequently contrasts New York with London to the detriment of the former and gives evidence that "a study" of the English capital was on his mind. He had hoped the trip to his native land would provide him time "to read a little" for the volume as well as 1. Percy Lubbock, ed., The Letters of Henry James (New York: Scribners, 1920), II, 37. The contract, dated June 19, 1903, specifically mentions the volume would be similar to Crawford's. See the Macmillan Papers in the British Library, Vol. CXLVI. 2. Edmund Gosse, Aspects and Impressions (London: Cassell, 1922), p. 60. 3. Gosse, ϕ . 60. 61 "subsequent leisure for dealing with it."4 Before exploring the nature of this volume, we must look briefly at James's association with London up to 1903, his changing attitudes toward it, and the way in which he used it in certain stories and novels. There is also the question of why, despite the five years he devoted to the enterprise, he never progressed beyond the thinking, talking, reading, note-taking, "prowling and prying" stage. For he called the writing of the book "one of the opportunities of my life."5 His letters testify that it was a task he earnestly wanted to complete, "having known the subject, having sounded and cared for it . . . so well and so long."6 James's attitude toward London went through five phases—the romantic and adventurous phase of his childhood and young manhood, the socializing and fame-seeking phase of his thirties, the established and "naturalized" phase of the 1880's, the cynical and anti-big-city phase of the 1890's, and the nostalgic and reminiscing phase of his old age. First there was the spirited response to an enchanted city through pictures and books. Next came the struggle to conquer it personally. This was followed by his triumph over the alien world and by his growing weariness with urban life in general and with London in particular; and, finally, by the retreat to Rye and the longing for "dear old London" and the recollection of his first vibrant days in the mid-Victorian city. Through all of these phases runs the theme that London is "the most complete compendium of the world" and that to observe life there is to study human nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 61-72
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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