Twenty years James's junior, Wharton was just at the outset of her literary career when the friendship of these two expatriate novelists blossomed. James, comfortably settled in London, found in Wharton's company the sustained intimacy which his circle of young, attractive men could not provide. To Wharton, James was ``Dearest Cher Maitre,'' supportive confidant during her frenetic extramarital fling with his longtime friend William Morton Fullerton. The James-Wharton meeting of minds had ``a piquant touch of the erotic,'' as Powers (editor, with Leon Edel, of James's notebooks) observes; James nicknamed her automobile ``The Vehicle of Passion.'' Later, he became an almost avuncular comrade. Wharton, unbeknownst to him, diverted her own Scribner royalties so that James received from the publisher the largest advance of his career. Nearly all of the surviving letters are by James, but we get an exchange as complex, rich and varied as the correspondents' fiction. (Jan.)
Editor Powers has gathered all the surviving correspondence between the two novelists, which reveals how these mutual admirers became devoted friends near the end of James's life. Sadly, very few letters survive from Wharton's side, but she's still a strong presence here as James admires her travels and projects, his awe alternating with delicious irony. Though full of references to her failing marriage and his failing health and hopes, his letters are buoyed up by an unfailingly playful wit. Most of them have not appeared before, and few with such helpful clarifications (Powers even footnotes the French phrases sprinkled throughout). For serious collections in American literature.-- Donald Ray, Mercy Coll. Lib., Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.