HENRY JAMES AND EDITH WHARTON: Letters: 1900-1915 by Lyall H.--Ed. Powers


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In this valuable collection of letters, Henry James reveals an openly affectionate side, declaring his devotion to Edith Wharton in the manner that a confirmed bachelor sometimes adopts with a younger, married woman. Unfortunately, though, the correspondence is one-sided; there are 13 Wharton letters to James' 167, hers having been destroyed, presumably by him. The reader hoping for profound literary discussion will find little here. When the two writers met, in the early 1900's, James was an established novelist; Wharton was on her way. Although he praised her work, Wharton claimed, by 1904, that she couldn't read his; nevertheless, her devotion and admiration were equal to his. Both led busy social lives in British society, literary and otherwise, and James eagerly reported gossip about visits to and from friends, while commenting on her similar accounts. There are frequent references to Wharton's travels in her motor car--which Henry loved--and to her husband and her troublesome marriage, as well as to William Morton Fullerton, Henry's friend with whom Edith was having an affair. Most interesting are Wharton's letters describing her war efforts, as she subjected herself to great dangers, traveling by motor car to scenes of military action in order to bring medical supplies to the wounded. The letters at the end--from James' secretary, Theodora Bosanquet, to Wharton--give a detailed, touching account of the final days of the writer, whom Wharton called ""one of the wisest & noblest men that ever lived."" Wharton's few preserved letters lack the extravagant expressions of affection found in James', but both Americans peppered their notes with French phrases, all of which the editor unnecessarily translates. Powers' (English/Univ. of Michigan) notes are good, although tiresomely repetitive; there is no bibliography, nor is there a list of works written by both writers during the period of their friendship.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Scribners