cover image Henry James: A Life in Letters

Henry James: A Life in Letters

Jack Kerouac, Henry James, Jr.. Viking Books, $35 (688pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88563-3

By his subtitle, Horne (Henry James and Revision) explicitly rejects Leon Edel's contention in his four-volume (1974-1984) selection of James's letters that letters ""offer only fragments of a life,"" since the inner life is seldom exposed overtly in correspondence. Horne's strategy is to introduce many letters in this single volume with italicized headnotes that fill in some narrative gaps. Edel, however, published 1100 letters to Horne's 296, and of James's nearly 73 years, the first half is covered here by only 51 missives. Yet ardent Jamesians will want this edition for its 148 previously unpublished correspondences. Horne also furnishes an appendix, of interest mainly to scholars, of 60 pages of textual changes and six more in foreign words and phrases. In a one-volume sampling, this is a heavy price to pay for unseen documents. While Edel prints 34 letters encompassing the first year of the Great War (1914-1915), the last full year of James's life, Horne can only manage 14. Dimensions of James inevitably vanish, although his maddeningly ornate later style comes through. While mannerisms are thrust aside when James calls Oscar Wilde ""an unclean beast"" and faint-praises Ellen Terry as ""beautiful as an image and abominable as an actress,"" he can be as evasive as he is direct. French novelists ""have lost the perception of anything in nature but the genital organs,"" he declares. But the later James, less timid and a homophile at least by post, praises A.C. Benson for rendering ""the most difficult & elusive parts"" of Walter Pater, ""...pressing it""--the ""parts""--""so intelligently hard... & playing all over it such fine penetrating restless finger-tips!"" While Horne discreetly makes nothing of that, a prying Jamesians surely will. (Nov.)