The Correspondence of William James, Vol. I

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William James scholars Ignas Skrupskelis and Elizabeth Berkeley have assembled an unusual volume that deserves a place on the shelves of research libraries and students of American philosophy, literature, and history. Relying on the wealth of research by the dozens of James family scholars, they have produced a text which offers an illuminating glimpse of the growing intellectual and aesthetic interests of William and Henry James.

The young William writes to brother Henry in Europe about his growing interest in the mental aspects of medicine, or about the Greek concept of evil; Henry in return speculates on the contemporary European novel, and shares his observations about society in France, Italy, and England. Writing to each other during the continental travels both undertook at separate times during the period covered by this volume, they reveal their attitudes about that curious phenomenon, the “American character.”

At the same time, however, these letters also serve as a reminder that these giants of American letters were also ordinary men, members of a closeknit family, susceptible to physical maladies, curious about the lives of their neighbors, not above common gossip. Correspondence near the end of the volume deals with the mundane details involved in the settlement of their father’s will, which curiously disinherited one of their other siblings; William and Henry (who served as executor) display their generosity and some sense of fiscal responsibility in returning brother Garth James’s rightful share to him.

The volume is yet another small monument to scholarship issued by the University Press of Virginia. The letters are presented in a context that affords readers a sense of the milieu in which the brothers lived and worked. The Biographical Register following the text offers succinct information about virtually every individual to whom even passing reference is made. Indispensable for scholars of American philosophy or literature, this book is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in an unusual slant on American history and the growing bond between intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic during the latter half of the nineteenth century.