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Book Reviews Judith Woolf. Henry James: The Major Novels. New York: Cambridge U P, 1991. xii + 163 pp. $39.95 ($11.95 paper) Cambridge University Press includes Judith Woolf s Henry James in its British and Irish Authors branch of the "Introductory Critical Studies" series, which aims to reach "school and university students, as well as the interested general reader" (i). Thus the value of Woolf s book for James scholars is in its usefulness to their students. Students who are aware of the inherent limitations of introductory works, or those whose instructors discuss with them the provisional nature of criticism, especially on the introductory level, should benefit by reading Woolf s Henry James. In nine chapters Woolf introduces the James novel, traces the development of James's "betrayal of innocence" theme (i), discusses style and explains plot in The Europeans, Washington Square, "Daisy Miller," The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove mdThe Golden Bowl. The "Introduction' ' confronts the difficulty of reading James and establishes a place for James's novels in relation to the English novel tradition, especially Richardson's tragic vision, which explores "that dangerous substratum" of everyday life (15), and George Eliot's studies of "how moral choices are made" (13). Woolf gives additional emphasis to James's dramatic technique. Woolf s deployment of provocative statements is at once the strength and the weakness of her introduction. Where such provocative statements will lead thoughtful students to further study, good teachers should remind others that one function of introductions is to open discussion, not to close it. Woolf herself implicitly admits the limitations of her introduction and encourages further study of the novels in passages such as the following on What Maisie Knew: ' 'This last section of the book is at once so complex and so crystalline that ideally I would like to annotate every line as one would do with a great poem, but space does not permit" (79). Thus Woolf s introduction encourages readers to engage James's novels rather than claiming to give critical consensus on his fiction. Just as Woolf argues that attentive readers of James gain rewards for their trouble, so Woolf s readers should receive just compensation for their attention to her stronger statements. In chapter two, for example, Woolf prods readers to consider the relation between the James novel and the romantic tradition when she argues that "Gertrude Wentworth, like Pamela herself, is a tragic heroine in embryo, she belongs not to Richardson's world but to Hawthorne's, or rather to Hawthorne's world as it might have appeared through the eyes of Jane Austen" (22). When Woolf explains that "To be European ... is a matter not of nationality but of culture, and it is from the encounter between mutually non-comprehending cultures that the comedy in the novel springs" (19), she describes an important point in all of James. And by showing close parallels between Catherine Sloper and Austen's Catherine Moreland, Woolf highlights the relation she has described between James and the English novel (29-30). Length limitation, the requirements that Woolf should explain to new readers of James the plot complications in The Portrait and the novels that follow and should discuss expected issues such as point of view and James's integration of plot or ' 'predicament' ' and character, all truncate the explanation of the relation of James's novels to the English tradition and of other issues. The unremarkable section on The Awkward Age, for instance, covers only two pages. Nevertheless, Woolf seeds the plot summary with points that could germinate into larger areas of consideration for the beginning reader of James's fiction, especially for the Henry James Review 13 (1992): 328-31 © 1992 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Book Reviews 329 readers who take the points as starters for their own investigations rather than as last words on James's novels. Among those provocative points are the following. The American is "little more than the anti-catholic fantasy of a naively puritan author" (53). In The Portrait, "James is fascinated by the psychological curiosity of a society founded on puritan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 328-330
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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