Henry James Letters (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
All dead letters fascinate the voyeur in us: secretly we eavesdrop on the past, and the stilled tongues speak. When the letters of the famous appear in print, we expect famous secrets. Indeed, some writers, such as D. H. Lawrence, have left us the autobiography they neglected to write. Do not expect as much from the Henry James letters. His secrets are small and the biography partial at best, and typically evasive. Where some writers remove their masks in letters, James continually changes his, for he has as many disguises as he has correspondents: James the brother, the traveler, the platonic lover; James the friend, the acquaintance, the haughty stranger; James the literary agent and playwright; James the bachelor and weekend guest; and masking all other masks, James the master craftsman and professional observer. Were he alive to read his own collected letters, James would use them to write a novel about the harried writer whose correspondence and social obligations became his art form.
Carefully edited, indexed, and footnoted by his biographer, Leon Edel, this third volume of the James letters covers a transition period via the theater from his middle period to his late period. One would do well to have the multi-volume Edel biography close at hand, for many of the generous footnotes refer the reader to specific sections of that work. No one but Edel...
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Henry James Letters (Magill's Literary Annual 1985)
Without too severe an exaggeration it may be alleged that the Henry James posterity has come to know best is the James of the years covered by the fourth and final volume of Leon Edel’s edition of his letters. It was during his last two decades that James began his residence at Lamb House in Rye, started to compose by dictating to a typist, discovered the joys of motoring with his new friend Edith Wharton, and returned after many years to his native land for a visit that resulted in The American Scene (1907). This span includes also that astonishing burst of creativity that produced three major novels, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904), in a three-year period during which the novelist turned sixty, and his New York Edition, for which he rewrote a number of his tales and novels and—more important—wrote the celebrated prefaces to each volume.
Thus, the period from 1895 to 1916 is the time of the mature Jamesian style, with its convolutions, qualifications, and subtleties. Indeed, this volume shows James exercising his famous style in much of his correspondence, especially in letters to highly literary and literate recipients. Not at all unusual is one sentence in a letter to H. G. Wells that contains in its seventy-three words—not long for a Jamesian sentence—three...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
Kirkus Reviews. LII, January 1, 1984, p. 32.
The New Republic. CXC, May 7, 1984, p. 32.
The New York Review of Books. XXXI, July 19, 1984, p. 39.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIX, April 15, 1984, p. 3.
The New Yorker. LX, August 20, 1984, p. 90.
Newsweek. CIII, April 9, 1984, p. 102.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXIV, December 23, 1983, p. 49.
Times Literary Supplement. May 18, 1984, p. 543.
(The entire section is 49 words.)