Henry James: Selected Letters

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Overview

"He was a supreme artist in the intimacies and connections that bind people together or tear them apart," says Leon Edel in his introduction to this collection of Henry James's best letters. Edel has chosen, from the four-volume epistolarium already published, those letters which especially illuminate James's writing, his life, his thoughts and fancies, his literary theories, and his most meaningful friendships. In addition, there are two dozen letters that have never before been printed.

In its unity, its elegance, and its reflection of almost a century of Anglo-American life and letters, this correspondence can well be said to belong to literature as well as to biography. Besides epistles to James's friends and family—including his celebrated brother, William—there are letters to notables such as Flaubert and Daudet in France; Stevenson, Gosse, Wells, and Conrad in England; and Americans from William Dean Howells to Edith Wharton. The latter correspondence, in particular, enlarges our understanding of James's complex involvements with Wharton and her circle; among the previously unpublished letters are several to Wharton's rakish lover, Morton Fullerton.

This masterly selection allows us to observe the precocious adolescent, the twenty-six-year-old setting out for Europe, the perceptive traveler in Switzerland and Italy, and the man-about-London consorting with Leslie Stephen and William Morris, meeting Darwin and Rossetti, hearing Ruskin lecture, visiting George Eliot. The letters describe periods of stress as well as happiness, failure as well as success, loneliness as well as sociability. They portray in considerable psychological depth James's handling of his problems (particularly with his family), and they allow us to see him adjust his mask for each correspondent.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
In style, James's letters are like those described in one of his stories: "natural, witty, vivid, playing with the idlest and lightest hand up and down the whole scale"...The acuteness of the novelist's eye and ear is everywhere apparent. We grow so used to his sharp eye and muffled heart that the occasional bursts of strong feeling startle and move us.
— Joseph Coates
Wall Street Journal
This splendid new collection of letters makes it easier than ever before to feel the superabundant intelligence, passion and variety of James's intense personal life...James has an immense capacity for friendship and a voracious appetite for social experience. The array of famous men and women who appear in these letters suggests some historical pageant...In Paris, James meets Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant and Turgenev. In London he visits George Eliot ("magnificently ugly--deliciously hideous ...behold me literally in love with this great horse-faced blue-stocking") and sees Ruskin, William Morris, Rossetti and Trollope...One finishes this collection with ever more affection and curiosity about this great American writer and altogether remarkable soul.
— Richard Locke
Saturday Review
From the first letters there is evidence of James's painterly art, his feelings for colors and textures, for shapes and tastes, for the blend of impressions physical and psychological that foreshadowed his novels. One follows them with the fascination that attends the development of genius made visible.
American Literature
Richly rewarding to all readers who wish to understand the complexities of James's personality and the deep, often austere dedication to his art.
New York Times Book Review
The letters are avid, irrepressible, by turns mocking and rhapsodic, shifting in style from the ornate to the vernacular, punctuated by parodies of high-flown romances and sketches of local scenes and characters.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The letters provide a rich, fascinating record of James' genius for friendship, his affection, his wit, his crowded, pleasant life. In their precise observations of the personalities and works of the most famous artists, actors, statesmen and writers of the period...they provide a wonderful record of the intellectual and social life of his time.
— Richard E. Nicholls
Plain Dealer
Whether humorous, angry or depressed, whether sending brief businesslike notes to his publishers or spinning out his gorgeous phrases for friends such as Edith Wharton or Henry Adams, James is always James--a writer who lived almost exclusively in the exercise of his supreme artistic gifts.
— Greg Johnson
Wall Street Journal
This splendid new collection of letters makes it easier than ever before to feel the superabundant intelligence, passion and variety of James's intense personal life...James has an immense capacity for friendship and a voracious appetite for social experience. The array of famous men and women who appear in these letters suggests some historical pageant...In Paris, James meets Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant and Turgenev. In London he visits George Eliot ("magnificently ugly--deliciously hideous ...behold me literally in love with this great horse-faced blue-stocking") and sees Ruskin, William Morris, Rossetti and Trollope...One finishes this collection with ever more affection and curiosity about this great American writer and altogether remarkable soul.
Plain Dealer
Whether humorous, angry or depressed, whether sending brief businesslike notes to his publishers or spinning out his gorgeous phrases for friends such as Edith Wharton or Henry Adams, James is always James--a writer who lived almost exclusively in the exercise of his supreme artistic gifts.
Chicago Tribune
In style, James's letters are like those described in one of his stories: "natural, witty, vivid, playing with the idlest and lightest hand up and down the whole scale"...The acuteness of the novelist's eye and ear is everywhere apparent. We grow so used to his sharp eye and muffled heart that the occasional bursts of strong feeling startle and move us.
New York Times Book Review
The letters are avid, irrepressible, by turns mocking and rhapsodic, shifting in style from the ornate to the vernacular, punctuated by parodies of high-flown romances and sketches of local scenes and characters.
Saturday Review
From the first letters there is evidence of James's painterly art, his feelings for colors and textures, for shapes and tastes, for the blend of impressions physical and psychological that foreshadowed his novels. One follows them with the fascination that attends the development of genius made visible.
American Literature
Richly rewarding to all readers who wish to understand the complexities of James's personality and the deep, often austere dedication to his art.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The letters provide a rich, fascinating record of James' genius for friendship, his affection, his wit, his crowded, pleasant life. In their precise observations of the personalities and works of the most famous artists, actors, statesmen and writers of the period...they provide a wonderful record of the intellectual and social life of his time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674387935
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1987
  • Pages: 490
  • Product dimensions: 6.55 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 1.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Among his many accomplishments over some forty years devoted to James scholarship, Leon Edel is the author of the monumental five-volume Life of Henry James, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He is Citizens Professor of English at the University of Hawaii.

Biography

Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines. In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907). During his career, he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 15, 1843
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      February 28, 1916
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Table of Contents

Introduction: On Selecting Letters

Chronology

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