Leon (Joseph) Edel Charles Feidelson, Jr. - Essay

Charles Feidelson, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Edel's biography of the young Henry James ["Henry James: The Untried Years"] is imposing…. The very notion of devoting so many pages to a period before James had produced a single important work is itself a measure of Mr. Edel's aspiration…. Zealously, but with intelligence and grace, he sets the record straight: he picks up all the "stitches" which James in his memoirs "dropped for worry-saving"—disposes of rash speculation as to the nature of the injury which James suffered at the age of eighteen—marshals the evidence bearing on James's affection for his cousin Minny Temple—unearths James's first short story. The only major fault in this phase of the book, though a strange one in a work that rightfully assumes so authoritative an air, has to do with the annotation: the notes are so sketchy and so badly presented as to make it almost impossible to discover the basis for many particular statements in the text.

The theme of "Henry James: The Untried Years" is plainly stated and elaborately developed. "Above all," says Mr. Edel, "it is … necessary to dispel the belief that there was, so to speak, no 'life' behind the Art of Henry James, that his was a purely cerebrating genius." Mr. Edel sets out to make the "life" as lively as he can. Not that he strains the evidence unduly: in the important cruxes he shows a fine impartiality…. Perhaps taking his cue from the undoubted fact that the very young James was often a...

(The entire section is 600 words.)