Twenty-four stories, newly attributed to the young Henry James although unsigned by him, range from the slight and sentimental to the pleasingly melodramatic.
For over two decades, editor Horowitz, a retired professor of English and computer science, has ferreted out anonymous or pseudonymous stories from the magazines of James’s time and put them through a series of computer tests, focusing on repeated uses of particular words and phrases. The resulting selections, beginning in the year James turned 10 and ending when he was 26, are sometimes rough and sometimes charming, but they never display the psychological acuity, moral perceptiveness, or rigorous “point of view” of James’s signed work. The storylines tend to revolve around obstacles to young love, and they tend to the insipid. In “The Pair of Slippers” and “The Rainy Day,” an omniscient narrator tells of a privileged but thoughtless young woman who performs an act of charity, is transformed, and wins the man she has been pining for. In “Breach of Promise of Marriage,” an heiress named Belle, the houseguest of an old school friend and the friend’s husband (the story’s narrator), becomes caught in her own seductive snare when she falls in love with a poor boy she has been flirting with. In one of the more entertaining tales, “A Hasty Marriage,” a beautiful and well-bred but penniless narrator reenacts the fate of Beauty in “Beauty and the Beast”; in a fit of pride during a game of charades at an elegant house party, she actually marries the rich but ugly stranger who turns out to be kinder and nobler than her handsome long-time suitor. In prefaces to these pieces and others, the editor suggests correspondences to later work and evidence of James-family Swedenborgian precepts that he believes seal the identification of the author.
Still, the tenacious reader alone will have to determine whether and which of these frothy stories is really the work of the great Henry James.