- Henry James
A number of critics write of James in prose aspiring to the complexity of the author’s own late style, sacrificing clarity for the sake of nuance. Bemused and befuddled readers may welcome recent books that reverse this trend in order to appeal to a larger audience: Michael Anesko’s engaging history of James in academe, Monopolizing the Master (reviewed in AmLS 2011, pp. 111–12); Michael Gorra’s account of The Portrait of a Lady, still the most popular of James’s long novels; and a historical guide, suitable for classroom use, edited by John Carlos Rowe and Eric Haralson. Studies of sources and influences have dwindled, supplanted by discussions of James’s writings from the perspectives of later artists and theorists more interested in the workings of modern and postmodern texts than in questions of literary paternity. Contributors to Susan Griffin and Alan Nadel’s anthology on James and Alfred Hitchcock cite the films to illuminate the fiction, as well as vice versa; and a Henry James Review special issue, “Transforming James” (a title adopted from the James Society’s 2011 conference in Rome), presents the author not simply as an American or a Western thinker but as one relevant to current interest in global literature and “deep time.” A consensus has developed that James himself was less a formalist than an experimentalist, a conclusion underscored by several recent studies of his contributions to literary modernism. [End Page 89]
i Editions, Letters, Biographical Studies
A recent edition of a classic text, James’s The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces (Chicago, 2011), includes a new foreword by Colm Tóibín (pp. vii–xviii) as well as editor R. P. Blackmur’s familiar introduction (pp. xix–li). Tóibín comments on “the majestic and grand tone” of the prefaces, the result of James’s avoidance of “vulgar intimacies” that might “interfere with the higher harmonies and infinite reverberations” of his fiction. Nonetheless, Tóibín continues, the origins of some of his narratives were deeply personal, and he did not allow his commitment to literary form to obstruct his “flow of imaginative energy.”
A paperback edition of James’s most popular narrative, The Turn of the Screw (Penguin, 2011), opens with an essay by editor David Bromwich (pp. xiii–xxxv) that attributes the “sickening pathos” of the story to the governess’s will-to-mastery. Bromwich relates the tale to James texts with less dire versions of this theme, including “Covering End,” The Spoils of Poynton, The Sacred Fount, and William James’s “The Will to Believe.” Some early reviews, adds the critic, reflect a more sensitive response to psychological horror than do “the complacent endorsements of academic interpreters.”
Pierre A. Walker and Greg W. Zacharias continue their edition of the correspondence with volume 1 of The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1876–1878 (Nebraska). The subtitle of Martha Banta’s “Introduction: Settling Down, Moving Up” (pp. xvii–lvi) alludes to two major themes: James’s selection of London as the place most conducive to his work, despite his persistent sense of himself as an outsider, and his growing professionalism, seen in his exchanges with editors and publishers. Because the author’s ambitions led him to be cautious rather than confessional, future biographers will face the challenge of distinguishing his genuine opinions from the masks he chose to adopt. He sometimes used self-protective irony, as in a letter to Katharine Hillard (whom he described to his brother William as “the literary spinster, sailing-into-your intimacy-American-hotel piazza type”). “The fact is I dislike novels, as a usual thing, & rarely read them for my own delectation,” he told her. “I wonder how any one could can read mine, &, if they are caught, consider it their own fault.” On several occasions he exhorted his family not to repeat gossip that might embarrass him or the acquaintances he tried to cultivate. “[F. T. Palgrave] said G.[eorge] Eliot’s picture of English countryhouse life in D.[aniel] D.[eronda] might have been written by a [End Page 90] housemaid! Don’t repeat this, for particular reasons.” And he declined an invitation “to...