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James, Henry - Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other European Writers, Prefaces to the New York Edition


Henry James

Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other European Writers, Prefaces to the New York Edition

 
"Also, we realize, James possessed a point of view tailor-made for the vocation of literary criticism. The critic's life, he wrote in one essay, 'is heroic, for it is immensely vicarious. He has to understand for others.'"
—The New York Times
 
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 French writers, other European writers, and the prefaces to the New York Edition, and the second contains essays on literature, American writers, and English writers. Many of the periodical articles appeared unsigned, but scholars have established James's authorship for a large number of these pieces by 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 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 fairly substantial ones. His essay "The Journal of the Brothers de Goncourt," for instance, first published in Fortnightly Review, October 1888, and then in Essays in London and Elsewhere in 1893, was very much revised between publications. The following are a few typical examples of the revisions James made throughout the essay. The first is from the periodical version.

. . . has become more so--has become so much so indeed that I am oppressively conscious of the difficulty of treating it. It was, I think, never an easy one; for persons interested in questions of literature, of art, of form, in the general question of the observation of life for an artistic purpose, the appeal and solicitation of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt were not simple and soothing; their manner, their temper, their elaborate effort and conscious system suggested a quick solution of the problems that seemed to hum in our ears as we read, almost as little as their curious, uncomfortable style, with its multiplied touches and pictorial verbosity, evoked as a general thing an immediate vision of the objects to which it made such sacrifices of the synthetic and the rythmic.
James revised the passage to read:
. . . has become more so, has become so absorbing that I am oppressively conscious of the difficulty of treating it. It was never, I think, an easy one; inasmuch as for persons interested in questions of literature, of art, of form, in the general question of the observation of life for an artistic purpose, the appeal and the solicitation of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt were essentially not simple and soothing. The manner of this extraordinary pair, their temper, their strenuous effort and conscious system, suggested anything but a quick solution of the problems that seemed to hum in our ears as we read; suggested it almost as little indeed as their curious, uncomfortable style, with its multiplied touches and pictorial verbosity, was apt to evoke an immediate vision of the objects to which it made such sacrifices of the synthetic and the rhythmic. (405.3-17)
In the second paragraph "he has transformed his position with a thoroughness" is changed to "he has shifted his position with a carelessness of consequences" (406.3-4). The first lines of the third paragraph are deleted. Some change has been made in every paragraph, both in wording and punctuation. One last example occurs in the final paragraph, which is both shortened and slightly revised. This passage in the periodical version:
It is a poor reward for our philosophy that providence should appoint MM. de Goncourt to turn the proposition the other end up and insist upon it during three substantial volumes. However, that is no reason why we should be peevish in return; inasmuch as certainly on the whole the cause is left about where it was: it is not an exceptionally great spirit that we have seen exposed. People of the profession will continue to read MM. de Goncourt, but if people of the profession will regret most the disagreeable things they have put into their apology it will not be they who will miss least the fine elements they have omitted from their novels.
becomes in Essays in London and Elsewhere:
It is a poor reward for our philosophy that Providence should appoint MM. de Goncourt to insist upon the converse of the proposition during three substantial volumes. (428.18-21)
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. Because the letters Henry James wrote for the New York Tribune were not only on literary topics, they are not reprinted in full here. Instead, the portions on literature have been placed under the individual writer discussed.

The New York Edition (1907-09) of his works provides the text used here for the eighteen prefaces, since they were not reprinted by James. No manuscripts survive. These were probably burned with a great portion of his papers in the years before 1910. In proposing the prefaces to his publisher, James said they would be "freely colloquial . . . representing, in a manner, the history of the work . . . a frank critical talk about its subject, its origin, its place in the whole artistic chain, and embodying, in short, whatever of interest there may be to be said about it." Thus, this volume of James's criticism ends with the critical appraisal of his own works.

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 headings or 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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