DEARLY BELOVED FRIENDS: Henry James's Letters to Younger Men

Henry James, Jr., Author, Susan E. Gunter, Editor, Steven H. Jobe, Editor . Univ. of Michigan $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-472-11009-4

The ongoing debate about Henry James's (1843–1916) sexuality finds suggestive new material in this collection of his loving letters to four young men in the later years of his life. Gunter and Jobe, two respected James scholars, present 166 letters from the 391 in existence; 95 are newly published. Noting the "significant gaps in the epistolary record of [James's] life as both a man of letters and a man of feelings" (fewer than one-third of all of James's letters have been published), the editors have selected letters for this volume that reveal "an intensity of emotion and a physicality…that counterpoint James's persistent loneliness." The letters point to a complicated intimacy that James, nearing 60, fostered with these youthful admirers, friends and houseguests during his years of declining health and increasing emotional frailty. James seems to have played shifting roles within each relationship: mentor, father, brother, erotic companion, confidant. James is paternal with Hendrik Andersen, for example, but he also writes of a wish to "put my hands on you (oh, how lovingly I should lay them!)" He is nurturing to Dudley Jocelyn Persse, but also refers to their "promiscuous social exercise." His letters are replete with dazzling melodrama: to Hugh Walpole he writes, "I too, even poor ponderous & superannuated I, am leading the Life for a little, in my clumsy way & with a vocation & a genius so inferior to yours." The editors' elegant introductory remarks and helpful footnotes provide crucial context and background information not necessarily available in letters that focus on physical well-being, travel plans and social news. Culled through considerable archival legwork by the editors, these documents are essential reading for any James devotee. 11 photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/24/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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