THE LETTERS OF HENRY JAMES, VOL. IV: 1895-1916 by Henry James


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Forgive my mechanic volubility,"" Henry James writes to Charles Eliot Norton in 1898. ""Isn't it better to have ticked and shocked than never to have ticked at all?"" In other words, because of difficulties in handwriting, James was dictating more and more in his later years--and his late letters, like his novels, show the effects (in some ways liberating, in some ways thickening) of this clause-encouraging development. It coincided, too, with the older James' opening-up to feeling: ""Old inhibitions, old cautions had in part given way,"" notes editor Edel. And the 800+ pages of correspondence here include quasi-love-letters to sculptor Hendrik Andersen, to fawning Hugh Walpole, to W. Morton Fullerton. (About a canceled Fullerton visit: ""I completely retain the consciousness of my original impressible vision of the spare, bare chance. Its very spareness and bareness endeared it to me, and I rocked its flail vitality in my arms as an anxious mother rocks the small creature of her entrails whose life is precarious."") Warm, too, are James' generous words of praise to Kipling, Conrad, Howells, Owen Wister, and other colleagues--though a dreadful historical novel by Sarah Orne Jewett elicits a fervent plea: ""Go back to the dear country of the Pointed Firs, come back to the palpable present-intimate that throbs responsive. . . ."" And family letters to brother William, sister-in-law Alice, nieces, and nephews abound in tender feelings--along with rococo perambulations. About his own work James is somewhat less forthcoming: intriguing responses to Turn of the Screw commentary; progress reports on the late novels; give-and-take with Scribners over the standard edition. (Plus advice on how to read The Ambassadors: ""read five pages a day--be even as deliberate as that--but don't break the thread."") There's the famous Edith Wharton correspondence too, of course; health problems; homage to Balzac; and reactions to current events from Oscar Wilde, the Boer War, and McKinley to the Great War horrors--including the death of beautiful Rupert Brooke. No surprises for readers of Edel's masterwork-biography--but an epic gathering of letters nonetheless, more compelling in its remarkable, never-commonplace prose (Kipling's latest tales are ""more than literature: they're Furniture"") than in its record of feelings or events.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press