- Henry James
The most significant work of the year has been accomplished by scholarly editors. Collections of Henry James's reviews of art and drama and of his (auto)biographical writings have made scattered and neglected texts newly accessible, while the ongoing Nebraska edition of the author's letters continues to serve as an invaluable resource. The latest volume in the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fiction of Henry James is The Portrait of a Lady, which spanned the gulf between elite and popular audiences and remains the most teachable of the major novels. The acquisition of these primary sources, of enduring value to students and scholars, should be a priority for college and university libraries. Veteran critic Martha Banta has written another notable book, a tour de force interweaving accounts of James's fiction and nonfiction with a narrative of events and circumstances that shaped his imagination. Recent studies by Mhairi Pooler and Miroslawa Buchholtz further illuminate James's practice of "life writing," and Anne Boyd Rioux's new biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson offers a fresh perspective on a relationship that has often been misinterpreted. This year's special issue of the Henry James Review, a forum on illness, age, and death, is inspired by the author's abiding consciousness of mortality.
i Editions, Letters, Biographical Studies
Michael Anesko's edition of The Portrait of a Lady (volume 7 of the Cambridge edition) is a magisterial work of textual and historical scholarship. [End Page 83] Along with the apparatus common to all volumes of this edition (see AmLS 2015, p. 77), the book includes a detailed chronology of the novel's composition and production, lists of substantive variants up to and after publication of the copy-text (the 1882 one-volume Macmillan edition), emendations to the copy-text, and appendixes of extracts from James's notebooks and his preface to the New York edition. Anesko's introduction (pp. xxx–lxxvii) synthesizes previous studies with his own insights as it invokes a range of contexts: the origins of the novel in James's reading, writing, and experience; its reversal of the marriage plot, an innovation that baffled many readers; its transatlantic publication history; the effects of James's revisions, which increase its erotic energies; and the theme of "chastened hope" contributing to its long-term popularity. This prefatory essay concludes with citations of contemporary reviews by general editor Tamara Follini, followed by a brief textual introduction (pp. lxxviii–lxxxii) that identifies the second published version as the one most scrutinized by compositors.
Complementing Portrait is the latest volume of the author's correspondence, The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1880–1883: Volume 1, ed. Michael Anesko and Greg W. Zacharias, with Katie Sommer, associate ed. (Nebraska)—a collection of 122 letters, 67 of them published for the first time. Susan M. Griffin's "Introduction: A Finer Art" (pp. xix–xxxiv) identifies several key topics: James's active "social life," his "deep, though ambivalent, ties to his family," and his "professional negotiations." Griffin also explains that the early 1880s were pivotal years for James, a transition when he "truly achieved maturity both personally and professionally." At times his literary self-confidence resulted in arrogance. Even as he arranged to serialize Portrait in the Atlantic Monthly, James disparaged both the journal and the loyal editor who promoted his fiction. "I am very sorry [W. D.] Howells turns the cold shoulder to your observations upon the flatness of our native literature—but am not surprised," he confided to Thomas Sergeant Perry, another American who shared his preference for Ivan Turgenev's sophistication. "The principles on which [Howells] edits the Atlantic indicate a low standard, certainly, & the vulgarity of that magazine often calls a patriotic blush to my cheek." James's social success, confirmed by a growing circle of cosmopolitan friends, fostered his adoption of the role of an "amiable bachelor" uninterested in matrimony. When a number of his female acquaintances (notably George Eliot) married much younger men, he joked with his parents about his own situation: "If you hear … that [End Page 84] Mrs. Kemble, , [sic] or Mrs. Procter, or Mrs. Duncan Stewart, (their combined ages amount to 250...