- A Partial Portrait of James Studies:Anesko’s Monopolizing the Master
Michael Anesko’s Monopolizing the Master is an important book. One of the foremost Jamesian archival researchers, Anesko is also a penetrating reader not only of James’s texts but also of networks of relationship and affiliation: within the James family; beyond the family to James’s colleagues and friends, his agent and his publishers, and his acolytes; and among the writers, scholars, publishers, and librarians who for the first six decades after James’s death figure in Anesko’s lively story of often self-serving custodianship of “Henry James.” But as fine an example of Jamesian scholarship as Monopolizing the Master is, its many virtues are vitiated by Anesko’s pervasive cynicism about the profession of letters and by a current of grievance running through the book that affronts the balance and authority it might otherwise have more fully achieved.
Anesko lays out a gripping tale of the struggle waged for the “cultural capital” embodied in “Henry James”—that is, in his published work, in the archives of his manuscripts, notebooks, diaries, and letters, and more generally in the evolving cultural construct “Henry James.” Anesko concentrates in the first two-thirds of Monopolizing the Master on the generation of family, friends, and acolytes who began to maneuver for control of “Henry James” even before the novelist’s death, including Henry James [End Page 175] himself, various members of his family, his secretary Theodora Bosanquet, and Edith Wharton and Percy Lubbock. The last third of the book focuses on the next two generations of James scholars. Anesko first covers the Van Wyck Brooks/Parrington period of James’s partially eclipsed reputation in the 1920s and ’30s, with special attention to William Dean Howells (!) and R. P. Blackmur. He then presents the first wave of the James revival as spearheaded by F. O. Matthiessen in the 1940s and continuing into the ’50s, with a veritable school of other scholars, mostly Jews—Leon Edel, Philip Rahv, Lionel Trilling, Alfred Kazin, Clifton Fadiman—swimming in Matthiessen’s gigantic wake. And he concludes with an indictment of Edel for allegedly villainous efforts to monopolize the cultural capital represented by “Henry James,” chiefly through Edel’s control of access to the James family archives.
In his preface, Anesko outlines the two major themes of his study. The first is the trajectory of James’s reputation, beginning with the disappointing sales of the New York Edition, through the posthumous decline of James’s “stock” into the mid-1940s, and concluding with the James Revival that began about 1945 and that continues today (though Anesko’s story essentially concludes on May 4, 1973, when Edel’s priorities on archival materials at Harvard were lifted). The second is the “logic of restriction” that has motivated the custodians of the cultural capital of “Henry James,” a logic rooted in James’s obsession with his own privacy and in his family’s protectiveness of its own intimate affairs (especially, but far from exclusively, its horrors of any imputations about Henry James’s sexuality). This second theme comes to a head in what Anesko presents as Edel’s self-seeking efforts to monopolize access to the James archives and to the whole mass of cultural capital of “Henry James, the Master.”
The Preface also introduces somewhat slippery referents for Anesko’s key term “cultural capital.” Sometimes the term simply means literary reputation in the conventional sense. Sometimes, after the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, it more broadly indicates the ways in which the cultural construct “Henry James” has been used by various parties as a fungible currency or property, convertible to position, prestige, wealth, and power. This may seem like a very fine point since an author’s reputation is itself a cultural construct that in part reflects the strivings of others to make something of it for themselves. A writer’s reputation may indeed wax and wane as a result of the efforts of others to exploit, drive down...