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So Much Life with (So to Speak) So Little Living: The Literary Side of the James-Wells Debate by Douglas Keesey, Princeton University There has been a good deal of interest, particularly during the last ten years, in the relationship and eventual break between Henry James and H. G. Wells. Many critics have seen their argument as paradigmatic of the split between two kinds of artists and two types of novels in the twentieth century. Ac Vincent Brome put it, for Wells It was Man not men that mattered, the race not the individual, but James held up his hands in well-bred horror at any such barbarism and continued to exercise his brilliant gifts on situations which, for Wells, bore all the marks of triviality. The novel divided into two schools, one preoccupied with probing the very ganglia of super-sensitized individuals , deeply imprisoned in the beautiful palaces of their own sensibilities , the other involved with man as part of a community, concerned to interpret one reacting on the other. The novel is still so divided. Somerset Maugham, J. B. Priestley, Joyce Cary and R. C. Hutchinson would be suffocated in the secret places of Proust, Elizabeth Bowen and possibly Sartre. (231) In Brome's imaginative description, the division between Wells and James (and that between their respective successors) is stark. The main purpose of this essay will be to subtilize that division, to probe and clarify the points at issue. A relationship as complex as that between Wells and James has many sides: critics have seen Wells as a son in revolt against a kindly but condescending father; as a lower middleclass outsider envious of a wealthy man secure in his position; and as a best-selling novelist whose success James, largely ignored by the public, found intolerable. My concentration will be less on the economic , class, or Oedipal aspects of the dispute and more on the literary. In particular , I shall discuss the novelists' different attitudes toward life ("so much life ... so living"), the audience, other novels, ie form of their own works. I do not little and the hold with Brome that "There is nothing very new to say about the threadbare argument of matter versus manner in the art of novel writing" (108); on the contrary, I think that there are issues, especially in the debate between James and Wells, still largely unexamined. To consider these issues with some kind of clarity, I have disturbed chronology and re-organized the main points in the James-Wells debate according to theme. This will avoid needless backtracking and self-anticipation. Besides, as Nicholas Delbanco points out, the debate is very often a case of "the cart . . . come before the horse—if Wells appears to answer, in 1911, an observation James would make in an essay one year later—that is at least in part a function of anachrony" (163). Before discussing the major points at issue, however, a brief chronological summary of the James-Wells relationship will give a sense of its development in tune and of the main documents in the case. Wells first met James in 1898. Before that he had seen James publicly booed for the unsuccessful drama Guy Domville (1895), which Wells reviewed, for the most part unfavorably , in the Pall Mall Gazette. Later in that year (1895), Wells also wrote a piece on Jameses collection of short stories, Terminations, for the Saturday Review; like the earlier, this review was largely disapproving . In 1898 Wells and James struck up a friendship, which was considerably strengthened when Wells took a house in Sandgate near James's in Rye and began to pay the "Master" frequent visits. Their correspondence from 1898-1914 shows two men with widely divergent views of life and literature gradually coming to realize their differences, but still remaining friends. At one point (1900) Wells even wrote a letter to the Morning Post defending James's The Soft Side against a hostile review. All this changed in 1914, when James Volume VI 80 Number 2 The Henry James Review Winter, 1985 published a two-part essay called "The Younger Generation" in the Times Literary Supplement. This piece was most likely a response...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 80-88
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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