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What Henry Knew

Michael Wood: Literature and the Taste of Knowledge, 18 December 2003

... just to hang in the memory, like a motto, or an old tune. My slightly frivolous title, ‘What Henry Knew’, takes us straight to Henry James, of course, and the (feeble) joke is meant, among other things, to indicate that I recognise how obvious a move this is, once we have started on the question of literature ...

Stowaway Woodworm

Frank Kermode, 22 June 1989

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 320 pp., £10.95, June 1989, 0 224 02669 0
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... About a century ago Henry James remarked sadly that, unlike the French, the English novel was not discutable. It had no theory behind it. Its practitioners were largely unaware that ‘there is no limit’ to what the novelist ‘may attempt as an executant – no limit to his possible experiments, efforts, discoveries, successes ...


Philip Horne, 30 August 1990

Henry James and Edith Wharton: Letters 1900-1915 
edited by Lyall Powers.
Weidenfeld, 412 pp., £25, May 1990, 9780297810605
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... is known, among other things, as the teller of the most devastating of the anecdotes displaying Henry James’s incapacity to communicate efficiently. The story told in her 1933 autobiography, A Backward Glance, has James, late one evening, attempt to ask a doddering Windsor pedestrian how their car can find its way ...

Living with a little halibut

John Bayley, 8 October 1992

by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 224 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 224 03315 8
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... by nature or naturally fortunate know that mysteries are not there to be solved. Todorov said that Henry James’s stories mostly depend on a query and a riddle, which their endings formulate with complete artistry but without solving: the puzzle is itself the solution. Anita Brookner is a good hand at something similar. In her latest novel there is ...

Action and Suffering

Marilyn Butler, 16 April 1981

Ideas and the Novel 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 121 pp., £4.95, February 1981, 9780297778967
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... questions with verve and elegance. Perhaps, she thinks, it is all the fault of the old maestro Henry James. As a critic, and even more as a practitioner, he got the public used to the doctrine of the novel as fine art, ‘a creation beyond paraphrase or reduction’. In James’s novels, the characters are typically ...

Taking it up again

Margaret Anne Doody, 21 March 1991

Henry James and Revision 
by Philip Horne.
Oxford, 373 pp., £40, December 1990, 0 19 812871 1
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... their printed works, on occasion, for various reasons. No novelist has made such a job of it as Henry James. In July 1905 he began the task of revising his life’s work, in order to create a final statement, a complete collection of his works, called from its inception the New York Edition. James actually believed ...

We offered them their chance

Michael Wood: Henry James and the Great War, 2 June 2005

The Ivory Tower 
by Henry James.
NYRB, 266 pp., £8.99, July 2004, 1 59017 078 4
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... as ‘a person without an alternative’, the very worst fate that can befall anyone in a Henry James novel, and all he thinks about is his neighbour’s legacy, or more precisely ‘what old Frank would have done with the fruits of his swindle, on the occasion of the rupture that had kept them apart in hate and vituperation for so many ...

I can’t, I can’t

Anne Diebel: Edel v. the Rest, 21 November 2013

Monopolising the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship 
by Michael Anesko.
Stanford, 280 pp., £30.50, March 2012, 978 0 8047 6932 7
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... Morningside Heights there’s an enormous residential tower which in 1932 replaced the Henry James, an apartment house built at the turn of the 20th century and advertised to appeal to ‘refined persons’. When William Dean Howells first told James about the building, ...

Living as Little as Possible

Terry Eagleton: Lodge’s James, 23 September 2004

Author, Author: A Novel 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 389 pp., £16.99, September 2004, 0 436 20527 0
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... a view which might have come as something of a surprise to Chaucer or Pope. For liberals such as Henry James and David Lodge, it represents a venture into individual consciousness of unique worth – so valuable, in fact, that in this new novel Lodge suspects it may be the summum bonum. ‘Consciousness’ – the very term has an inescapably reifying ...


J.I.M. Stewart, 5 April 1984

Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1928 
by Ann Thwaite.
Secker, 567 pp., £15, April 1984, 0 436 52146 6
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... sixty years. Swinburne is devoted to him at the start, as is Siegfried Sassoon at the close, and Henry James is going to address over four hundred letters to him. He weathers two major storms, one emotional and the other resulting from a rash claim that if not a poet he is at least a scholar. Becoming Librarian of the House of Lords, he luxuriates ...

Death and the Maiden

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 6 August 1981

Alice James 
by Jean Strouse.
Cape, 367 pp., £9.95, February 1981, 0 224 01436 6
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The Death and Letters of Alice James 
edited by Ruth Bernard Yeazell.
California, 214 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 520 03745 6
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... Alice James died in London at the age of 43, regretting only that she would not have the pleasure of knowing and reporting herself dead. The reporting was done instead by her favourite brother: ‘I went to the window to let in a little more of the afternoon light, and when I went back to the bed she had drawn the breath that was not succeeded by another,’ Henry James wrote to their eldest brother, William, in America, as if, in the now fashionable way, defining death to a Martian ...

Shopping for Soap, Fudge and Biscuit Tins

John Pemble: Literary Tourists, 7 June 2007

The Literary Tourist 
by Nicola J. Watson.
Palgrave, 244 pp., £45, October 2006, 1 4039 9992 9
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... were respected. Not so the visitors who paid to see them. First Coleridge and the Romantics, then Henry James and Virginia Woolf, then the New Critics of the 1930s, followed by Barthes, Derrida and the deconstructionists, have scolded literary tourists. ‘The author’s dead!’ they’ve told these vagrant supplicants again and again. ‘So go ...

Two Poems

Alistair Elliot, 14 December 1995

... centre stage (not in Greek dress) a struggling bald man of about seventy years. Good Lord, it’s Henry James, cursing his tardiness. But they’re singing: ‘O sweetly spoken Word of Zeus ...’ Quite a lot better than the rain of boos he received last time. He looks ...

Sunday Mornings

Frank Kermode, 19 July 1984

Desmond MacCarthy: The Man and his Writings 
by David Cecil.
Constable, 313 pp., £9.95, May 1984, 9780094656109
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... was somewhat higher, and they might hobnob with the great in salons and house parties, where, as Henry James sometimes suggests, they were cultivated for their celebrity or their charm rather than for their books – see, for example, ‘The Death of the Lion’. Society was open to the talents, but to have the right background could only help, and ...

Don’t Ask Henry

Alan Hollinghurst: Sissiness, 9 October 2008

by Howard Sturgis.
NYRB, 345 pp., £8.99, May 2008, 978 1 59017 266 7
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... ambiguous fate of becoming an accessory to the life of a more important writer. It is his friend Henry James who keeps Sturgis’s novel distantly in view, at the same time as casting a long shadow over it. James read it in proof, and wrote a characteristic sequence of letters to Sturgis about it, beginning with neat ...

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