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The Question of Henry James (Revisited) Alwyn Berland. Culture and cond~ct in the novelsof Henry James. Cambndge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.231 + xi pp. Nicola Bradbury.Hemy James: The Later Novels. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.228pp. James Kirschke.Henry James and Impressionism. Troy, N.Y.: The Whitston Publishing Co., 1981. 333 +ixpp. R. W. J.Wilson.Henry James '.sUltimate Narrative: "The Golden Bowl." St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1981.329 +xii pp. Ruth BernardYeazell.Language and Knowledge mtheLateNovels of Henry James. Chicago: The Universityof Chicago Press, 1980.142+ vii pp. William R. Macnaughton Ina peculiar, hostile and fascinating review of James Miller, Jr.'s, book on TheWaste Land, John Peter writes, "There's a bitter saying in North Americanuniversities that the real difference between a businessman and an academicis that, when the businessman knifes a colleague in the back, he knowswhy."1 Although the smugness in the remark about businessmen seems somewhat chilling to me, I know enough about academic communitiesto see a modicum of truth in this probably apocryphal observation. I noteit here because in the following review of five relatively new books on Henry James, many of my own comments will be less than complementary, ina sense collegial knifings. Readers of this review essay should therefore beskeptical in advance about my motives and qualifications. I am not a Jacobite,and find the writings of Henry James beginning with The Spoils ofPoynton to be difficult to read and at times not worth the effort. As a result,I occasionally suspect that his mammoth reputation is an unequivocalexample of the Emperor's New Clothes, and wonder how a writer so narrow,so evasive, so-despite his self-justifications and self-glorifications inhisPrefaces to the New York edition-frequently out of control, could inspire so much adulation. Since I am also making confessions in this introduction, I will confess thatone of my naughty solitary pleasures over the years has been to search outcriticism on James which contains passages hostile to the Master: the Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 15,Number 3, Fall 1984, 323-335 324 William R. Macnaughton chapters on James in William Spackman's On the Decay of Humanism, for example ("The heavy sentences take on a megatherian life of their own: whatever else was going on stops, for James as for the reader, until the thino has rumbled past"); in Reynold Price's wonderfully quirky (and ultimatel~· appreciative) introduction to the Merrill edition of The Wings of theDov~ (James is "as lurid and mad as Kafka in his own private way, as desperatein his efforts at comprehension and self-healing and often as helpless");in John Halverson's "Late Manner, Major Phase"; or in the frequently negative comments in the excellent books on James by Phillip Weinstein and Charles Samuels.2 Given this bias, I am sure I would have liked even Maxwell Geismar if his Hemy James and the Jacobites had not been written so badly.3 Onthe other hand, perhaps out of guilt or a sense of inadequacy, I have alsoread and enjoyed many very positive studies of James-the early 1960sbooksbv Dorothea Krook and Laurence Holland, for example, and more recentl~ Richard Hocks's subtle study of the "Jordain" relationship between Willia~ James's ideas and his brother's fiction and Kenneth Graham's marvellouslv sympathetic Henry James and the Drama of Fulfillment. 4 Most recently,·1 have been impressed by Susanne Kappeler's thoroughly contemporary treatment of James, by Edward Wagenknecht's old-fashioned, cantankerous but very well informed study of James's women, and Daniel Fogel's poised,lucid book about the way in which the Romantic concept of the "spiral dialectic'' may be used to explicate structural patterns in James's fiction. 5 When reading studies like these, I am temporarily convinced that I have not given Jamesthe "attention of perusal" that he deserves and will reward; I then plunge again, armed and reinvigorated, into the murky world, say, of The Golden Bowl. resolved not to read as an "exercise in skipping." Despite these periodical immersions, my current conclusion is that I often enjoy reading criticismof James more than fiction by him. I also think that he owes more...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 323-335
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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