HENRY JAMES AND THE JACOBITES by Maxwell Geismar

HENRY JAMES AND THE JACOBITES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Maxwell Geismar's attack on Henry James attempts a sort of guerre a outrance, to the death, but the strategy is frequently foolhardy and the deployment, all all, disastrous. For Geismar, James ""had no life outside his art"", he knew next to nothing about history, politics, psychology; a ""fictionalist of power, position and prestige"", he was ""royalist and reversionary""; a case of arrested development emotionally, sexually, artistically- he revealed merely a second-hand reality, one ast in childhood complexes and confectioned out of Old World culture; he was not a major novelist only a ""major entertainer""; and thus, according to Geismar, the New critics, (dubbed here the Jacobites), so full of proto-aristocratic, anti-democratic absolutes, have made of James a God- James so richly reflecting the temper of the times: our age of affluence, conservative and conformist to the core.... Well, as a bill of particulars it has, of course, its points- many of the Jamesian disciples need a drubbing, much of the Jamesian ""cultivation"" is indeed almost claustral- but Geismar, so querulous, so garrulous, reduces his Holy War to wholesale slaughter. For example, he contends that each heroine from Daisy Miller to Milly Theale is part and parcel of ""the exclusion of all sense of feminine experience""; that Dove, Ambassadors and Bowl are works to ""ponder over in sheer incredulity"", that Princess and American Scene lack ""social actuality""; that fairy tales are ""the true insides"" of all the novels and tales; that interpretations by Edmund Wilson, Trilling, Auden, Rahv, Spender, among others, are representative either of vested interests or enchanted know-nothingness. (And can one really consider any of these men reactionary?) No, the Geismar bias distorts what might have been a challenging critique.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1963
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin