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Correspondence To the editor: In 1956 I called on Mr. and Mrs. William James at their house Stone Wall in Chocorua, New Hampshire, to thank them for granting me permission to publish two new Henry James letters. William, said Alice, would return from town shortly with lumber enough to repair the barn, which had caught fire the previous night from William's carelessly disposed cigarette. When he returned with the lumber, which I helped him unload, he told me that the barn had been set fire by a bolt of lightning. It could have happened in a Henry James story, conflicting points of view. Mrs. James later wrote me that she was sorry it was "such a hectic moment when you & your wife stopped here. It was a pleasure to have seen your young sons, too." However, the pleasure was all mine because, while Mr. James was in town getting lumber, Mrs. James permitted me to read the typescript of the taped BBC recording she had just then received from London. It was a "Henry James Program." I laughed at some of the incidents about Henry; but Mrs. James said she did not find them amusing, nor the light and casual tone of the Englishman reporting them. They were not to her liking because they cast the Master in a somewhat ridiculous role . That is probably why these rather comic incidents, of which I now remember only the two items given in my quatrains, do not appear in Leon Edel's solemn portrait of the Master in his Henry James: (1) HJ and Sir James Barrie While Henry James talked, but had not uttered— Not yet—the last word because he stuttered, The train puffed off, and Sir James Barrie Missed the channel ferry. (2) HJ and Constance Fenimore Woolson "Henry James," she said, "by gondola drown, When I die, my jewels, and gown by gown Sink them in my beloved Grand Canal." But the gowns blossomed, floated like a parasol. R. W. Stallman University of Connecticut 116 To the Editor: D. D. Todd has recently attacked a number of literary critics for making extravagant claims about the worth of Henry James's theory of fiction (in "Henry James and the Theory of Literary Realism," Philosophy and Literature, 1 [Fall 1976], 79-100; hereafter cited parenthetically as Todd). He implies that writers like James E. Miller, Jr., whose recent Theory of Fiction: Henry James bears the brunt of his attack, have allowed their admiration for James's ample artistic talents to distort their view of his meager theoretical competence. Todd reminds us that the gift of skillful execution of a task has little or nothing to do with theorizing about such tasks. He uses his own considerable analytical skill to clarify the notion of "literary realism," demonstrating in the process that this key Jamesian idea is rather tame and assuring us that if we used our common sense we would see things this way too (Todd, p. 98). Though I enjoyed reading Todd's essay, I protested at nearly every point. My protest grew strongest when we were bludgeoned about with the blunt instrument of common sense. While common sense sometimes does check us from making extravagant claims about the importance of someone's ideas, it also often works to guide us into an interpretation of someone's opinion which rejects the trivial meaning of the words in an attempt to see what the person is driving at. After all, it is only common sense to think that an ordinarily intelligent person has something worthwhile in mind when he tries pointedly to communicate with us. This point is illustrated when, in trying to discredit the coherence of James's thinking, Todd cites the failure of R. P. Blackmur to provide a concise general statement of a Jamesian theory of the novel in Blackmur's Introduction to The Art of the Novel. Todd remarks: "Blackmur was a careful and thoughtful reader of James, so his failure to concoct a general argumentative statement of James's theory of the novel ought to have prompted him, or, certainly, his readers, to suspect that the fault was not Blackmur's but James's; but it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 116-122
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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