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James, Henry - Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers & English Writers

Henry James

Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers & English Writers

"[A] great American novelist who wrote more superb criticism than any compatriot, before or since."
Overview  |  Note on the Texts  |  Reviews  |  Table of Contents

Between 1864, when Henry James reviewed a volume dealing with the art of the novel, and 1916, when his last essay was published, he produced more than 300 literary essays, prefaces, notes, and commentaries. These, distinct from his essays on drama and art and his travel writings, are published in two volumes; this contains essays on literature, American writers, and English writers, and the second contains French writers, other European writers, and the prefaces to the New York Edition. Many of the periodical pieces appeared unsigned, but scholars have established James's authorship for a large number of these pieces, drawing their evidence from such sources as the account books of magazines, which show the records of payment to authors, and the letters James wrote at the time. The novelist himself reprinted forty-eight of these items, revising them for his four volumes of literary appreciation and criticism--French Poets and Novelists (1878), Partial Portraits (1888), Essays in London and Elsewhere (1893), and Notes on Novelists (1914). James also wrote a book on Nathaniel Hawthorne, contributed a few essays to literary encyclopedias and collections, and wrote prefaces to a number of works. These have all been included so that the two volumes in the Library of America present the complete literary-critical non-fictional writings of the novelist. About one third of the pieces included here have never before been published in book form.

Any edition of James's criticism must rely on the published texts, for only eight manuscripts of his literary reviews are known to survive (six for reviews that were printed during his life and two for manuscripts that have been discovered and printed more recently in scholarly journals). James asked to see proof of an article whenever possible, and it can be assumed that most of his writings for American magazines while he lived in Cambridge and New York, and those for English magazines while he lived in England, had the benefit of his corrections. However, pieces written in Europe for American magazines, as so many of these were, could not be proofread in time for publication, and errors resulting from the difficulty of reading his handwriting could easily occur. James began to use public stenographers in the late 1880s and he acquired a typist in the late 1890s.

When James reprinted articles in book form, he often made minor revisions and in some cases there were fairly substantial revisions. For example, a passage in "The Art of Fiction," as published in Longman's Magazine in 1884, states "that a novel is a novel, as a pudding is a pudding, and that this was the end of it"; in Partial Portraits (1888) the statement says "that a novel is a novel, as a pudding is a pudding, and that our only business with it could be to swallow it" (44.32-34). Other examples occur in the same article: "the only classification of the novel that I can understand is into the interesting and the uninteresting. . . . was revised to read "the only classification of the novel that I can understand is into that which has life and that which has it not. . . ." (55.29--31); and "Some enjoy a complete illusion; others revel in complete deception. . . ." becomes "Some enjoy a complete illusion, others the consciousness of large concessions. . . . (58.3-4). Sometimes James changed only one word, but often the metaphor itself is shifted. For example, in "The Science of Criticism," first published in the New Review in 1891 and later revised and reprinted in Essays in London and Elsewhere (1893), James changed "In this light one sees the critic as the real helper of mankind, a torch-bearing outrider, the interpreter par excellence. The more we have of such the better, though there will surely always be obstacles enough to our having many. . . ." to "In this light one sees the critic as the real helper of the artist, a torch-bearing outrider, the interpreter, the brother. The more the tune is noted and the direction observed the more we shall enjoy the convenience of a critical literature. . . ." (98.12-16). A few other examples are given in the Notes.

Because James engaged in such revision, the text used here for each piece is the last version which James himself corrected. Thus his four collections of criticism provide the texts for the pieces he reprinted. For the other pieces, the original periodical or book publication has been used.

The standards for American English continue to fluctuate, and in some ways are conspicuously different now from what they were in earlier periods. In nineteenth-century writings, for example, a word might be spelled in more than one way, even in the same work, and such variations might be carried into print. Commas were sometimes used expressively to suggest the movement of voice, and capitals were sometimes meant to give significances to a word beyond those it might have in its uncapitalized form. Since modernization would remove such effects, this volume preserves the spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the wording of the texts reprinted here. This volume represents the texts of these editions; it does not attempt to reproduce the features of typographic design--such as display capitalization. Typographical errors have been corrected.

Copyright 1995–2011 Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
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