- Henry James
Even during times of adversity within and beyond academe, scholarship on Henry James has continued to flourish, thanks to projects that confirm the enduring human interest of his life and works. The latest volume of The Complete Letters illuminates his literary success and his family relations, while a recent anthology sponsored by the European Society of Jamesian Studies presents duplicity not only as a moral and ethical failing but also as an inescapable condition of identity and language. In addition, historical critics explore numerous parallels between James’s world and our own. In a new book Miranda El-Rayess charts the author’s ambivalent responses to a growing consumer culture, and John Carlos Rowe has edited a collection—aptly titled Henry James Today—focused on current constructions of modernism and postmodernism. Most tellingly, perhaps, James’s writings suggest the perils and prospects of a future in which technology will continue to multiply global connections. A cluster of essays on the author’s late style (the subject of a special issue of the Henry James Review) underscores a paradox: an idiosyncratic signature, it also demonstrates his receptivity to other voices and media.
i Letters; Biographical Scholarship and Fiction
Editors Pierre A. Walker and Greg W. Zacharias continue their invaluable work with Volume 1 of The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1878–1880 (Nebraska). The subtitle of Michael Anesko’s “Introduction: The Real Career, the Larger Success” (pp. xix–xlv) echoes the author’s own [End Page 91] words following the popular reception of Daisy Miller—a turning point that gave him the confidence to stand his ground against American detractors of his Hawthorne and to begin planning The Portrait of a Lady, his “wine-&-water” novel. Anesko also notes “an undercurrent of loneliness” in these letters, perhaps a “concomitant of his dedication to the life of art.” (“All my relations in England are mere acquaintances—I don’t suppose I have any talent for making friends,” James confided to his mother.) His roles as son and brother remained the center of his emotional life. The newly published letters (58 of the total of 114 in the volume) confirm his attachment to his “mammy” and his fraternal interest in William, whose “connubial harmony” he commended even as he himself rebuffed overtures from marriageable women. His letters to his sister, Alice, whom he addressed as “sweet child” despite her being a woman of 30, reflect both solicitude and impatience. (“It is so very, very good of you to have relieved the strain on our sympathies,” he wrote during one of her intervals of recovery from “sickliness.”) He took offense, however, when he became the target of her wit and humor. (“I greatly wish you wouldn’t be so ironical about Brother’s habits, tastes acquaintances [sic], standard of Beauty &c. Brother is pained by that tone.”) James’s letters, like his fiction, inevitably embroil him in the gender politics he hoped to avoid.
In “Liberal London, Home, and Henry James’s Letters from the Later 1870s” (HJR 35: 127–40) Zacharias explains how the author’s growing attachment to the city increased his self-confidence and promoted his literary career, thanks to associates who “supported his choices about life and work.” His crowning success was acceptance into the Reform Club, which chose its members on the basis of “‘talent, not birth.’”
Mhairi Pooler’s “Reading the Language of Friendship in Henry James’s Letters to Edmund Gosse” (HJR 35: 76–86) traces the dynamics of the professional and personal relationship between the novelist and the critic, emphasizing the stylistic “eloquence … that both speaks to and generates intimacy between an author and a knowing reader.” Nonetheless, Pooler notes, James was reticent about his fictional creations, and she warns against confusing the author’s literary persona with the particulars of his life outside the text.
In “Sad Rags: Tales of Enchanted Dresses” (SR 122: 478–83) Edwin M. Yoder casts doubt on the anecdote of James’s thwarted effort to sink the garments of the late Constance Fenimore Woolson in a Venetian lagoon. Tracing the origin of this myth to a BBC interview with a [End Page 92] former acquaintance...