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Leon Edel and James Studies: A Survey and Evaluation by Daniel Mark Fogel, Louisiana State University I. Introduction Henry James, says Leon Edel, achieved an artistic Imperium; its borders, we might say, have been extended in James's time and in ours by the brilliant artists and critics he has inspired, critics as diverse as Percy Lubbock and F. R. Le avis or as Yvor Winters and Tzvetan Todorov, literary artists from Howells and Conrad on down. Many writers, like Howells and Conrad, have paid James artistic and critical tribute alike, cutting the cloth of poems and novels by Jamesian lights and recording their devotion to the Master in analytic prose: early in this century, Pound and Eliot; later, Graham Greene, Spender, and Auden; more recently, Louis Auchincloss and William Gass; and, perhaps most recently (as witness their talks at last year's meeting of the Henry James Society), Richard Howard and Cynthia Ozick. In "At the Grave of Henry James," Auden showed that art itself could be major criticism. So far as I can tell, however, Leon Edel alone among the legions of artistic and critical Jamesians has shown that major criticism and scholarship can achieve in the same stroke the status of major art. And no one has even closely approached the enormous expansion of the Jamesian Imperium Edel has promoted by dint of great artistry, relentless scholarship, and balanced, telling criticism; indeed, some have felt that the Master is Leon Edel's creation, though, as I hope the argument in the following pages will suggest, the image of James that Edel has given us is in reality a rich and illuminating joint creation of the biographer and his subject--and, the subject's collaboration and Edel's artistry notwithstanding, it is undoubtedly the best, most veridical image of James we have or are likely to have for a very long time. James himself, writing of biography in an essay on George Sand, imagined an equal struggle between "[t]he reporter and reported": "it will be 'pull devil, pull tailor,' and the hardest pull will doubtless provide the happiest result." Edel's has been the happiest pull, and the hardest, and, extending well over half a century now, the longest to boot. He began his work on James within a few years of Pound's and Eliot's, and he has carried it down to the present day. We await, as I write, the third revision of his Bibliography of Henry James and the fourth volume of his Henry James Letters. Assessments of his contribution to James studies such as the one I intend here are therefore premature; but the occasion, the dedication of a special issue of the Henry James Review (Volume III, Number 3) to Leon Edel on his seventy-fifth birthday—the present essay is an extension of the Edel issue into Volume IV—calls for at least this provisional attempt. I will begin with a capsule biography of Leon Edel up to the time of his emergence in the forefront of James scholarship. Although there is some commentary on Edel1 s earliest work on James in the next few pages, the sustained review of his criticism and scholarship begins in section III, below. II. Leon Edel: The Unchaired Years "There must always be, inevitably, a poet behind a poem." —Leon Edel In 1907, Henry James, then sixty-four, saw through the press the first volumes of the New York Edition and also the volume commemorating his recent return to the United States, The American Scene. James's observations on HENRY JAMES REVIEW 3 FALL, 1982 the teeming immigrant communities of New York City were to incur, long after his death, charges of racism and anti-Semitism from F.O. Matthiessen and others. The same tide of immigration that had flooded the polyglot Lower East Side to the attested and fascinated astonishment of the long-absent novelist brought with it Simon and Fannie Edel, Russian Jews whose son Leon was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September of 1907, the year of The American Scene. Leon Edel would someday emphatically defend Henry James against the charge of anti-Semitism. James, despite the occasional use in his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 3-30
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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