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Edward Wagenknecht. The Novels of Henry James. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. 329 pp. $18.50 Robert Emmet Long. Henry James: The Early Novels. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983. 195 pp. $13.95 Susan Reibel Moore. The Drama of Discrimination in Henry James. St. Lucia: Univ. of Queensland Press, 1982. 127 pp. $32.50 Serious James scholars need not concern themselves with these three books unless they want an introductory text which they can recommend to beginning students. Wagenknecht's and Long's books are explicitly designed as introductions. Although Moore's study takes the form of a scholarly monograph from a university press, its interpretation of James is so old-fashioned that it would actually serve well to introduce students to the conventional wisdom about the novels she analyzes. Wagenknecht 's book is the most ambitious of the three, and it is the most disappointing. Ranging from Watch and Ward to The Sense of the Past, it promises a comprehensive, reliable overview of James's canon from an eminent, respected authority. But undergraduates should be warned away from it because it is poorly written, wildly opinionated , and weakly organized. By contrast , Long's study of James's first fifteen years as a novelist, from Watch and Ward in 1871 to The Bostonians in 1886, is workmanlike and dependable. Long does not offer a surprising new perspective on James's early career, but he gives clear, well-substantiated explanations of widely shared views. Although not every Jamesian will agree with his readings, undergraduates who consult Long's book will get a firm foundation on which to begin building their own interpretations. Factual accuracy and clear, correct prose are the least one expects of an introduction . Lamentably, Wagenknecht's book fails even here. Characters are sometimes misnamed. Confusing Middle march and Daniel Deronda, for example, he marries Dorothea Brooke not to Casaubon but to Grandcourt. The painter from The Sacred Fount is called "Fred" rather than Ford Obert, and Maisie's governess (and later stepmother) Miss Overmore becomes "Overman ." But the book's writing is its most serious flaw. Metaphors are frequently mixed: "she has not yet got sufficiently tired of trying her wings so that she wishes to be swallowed up . . ." Sometimes the results are embarrassing: "when the chips are down, she stands with the sheep, not the goats" (one wonders what kind of "chips" he has in mind). Clichés and vague, tired phrases follow one after the other in some sentences: "He went at the thing with his usual complete devotion to the task at hand, and before he finished, he thought the battle had been won" (italics added). Elsewhere James is "on pins and needles," a character is "of the late bloomer variety," and Christopher Newman is "an American who has made his pile." Awkward syntax, run-on sentences, double negatives, tenseshifts in mid-sentence, wordiness, and simple grammatical mistakes ("who" for "whom," for example) also abound. On a single page he can repeatedly employ mechanical formulas like "it is ridiculous to suggest that ... It is all the more interesting that . . . There seems no doubt that ... It was inevitable, however, that..." A list of the stylistic failings of the book could go on and on. Two more examples must suffice, the first as a demonstration of wordiness that no editor with a sharpened blue pencil should tolerate, and the second as evidence of pervasive sloppy syntax: James was the very type of the deliberate , intellectual, self-conscious novelist who creates according to definitely formulated and clearly apprehended convictions of what fiction ought to be. This sentence could be cut drastically, with no sacrifice in meaning, by deleting "the very type of," "and clearly apprehended," and perhaps either "deliberate" or the Volume VI 148 Number 2 The Henry James Review Winter, 1985 slightly redundant "self-conscious": "James was a deliberate, intellectual novelist who created according to definitely formulated convictions about fiction." The second example leaves the reader spinning: Since it is used only once, the pagoda image is much the less pervasive, but in itself it is far the more elaborate, which is exactly my difficulty; it seems to me strained and artificial, like the worst excesses of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 148-152
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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