Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Critical Reception of Henry James

The Critical Reception of Henry James: Creating a Master

Linda Simon
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 242
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Critical Reception of Henry James
    Book Description:

    Although some of Henry James's contemporary critics deemed him just short of a great writer, history has elevated him to indisputable preeminence in the American canon. Linda Simon chronicles and analyzes James criticism beginningwith contemporary newspap

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-692-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-vi)
    L. S.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Although some of James’s contemporary critics deemed him just short of a great writer, history has elevated Henry James to indisputable preeminence in the American canon. Even before Leon Edel underscored the epithet “The Master” in his multi-volume biography (the first volume appeared in 1953), James was the novelist with whom every major American critic grappled. Van Wyck Brooks, Richard Blackmur, F. O. Matthiessen, F. W. Dupee, Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson: these writers and hundreds more had their say about the works of Henry James. In the second half of the twentieth century and into our own time, this attention...

  5. 1: A Mirror for Americans: Contemporary Criticism, 1866–1916
    (pp. 10-26)

    James did not burst, a fledgling, onto the literary scene with his first volume of stories, A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales (1875). Those stories, and other writings, already had been published in the Atlantic Monthly and the Galaxy; his first story, “A Tragedy of Error,” appeared in the Continental Monthly in February, 1864 and his first reviewed story, “A Landscape Painter,” appeared in the Nationin 1866 (Gard 3–4). By the time James’s novels began to appear in book form in the 1870s, readers were familiar with them because they had been serialized, usually for more than a year....

  6. 2: Instructions to the Reader: James’s Prefaces to the New York Edition
    (pp. 27-41)

    In late July 1905, Henry James was sixty-two; he just had returned to England from a long and emotional trip to America, a country he had not seen in decades. The cultural changes he noted urged him to look back not only at his youth, but at the whole of his life and career. He returned, then, in a reflective, biographical mood that emerged in his essays published as The American Scene (1907) and, most significantly, in his new project: a specially printed and bound multi-volume edition of his works. He would call it the New York Edition, in honor,...

  7. 3: The Cult of Henry James, 1918–1960
    (pp. 42-60)

    For nearly thirty years after James died, critical articles about him usually numbered fewer than two dozen each year. This response would not have surprised T. S. Eliot, who, in 1918, predicted that James always would be “regarded as the extraordinarily clever but negligible curiosity” understood by only “a few intelligent people” (854). After Percy Lubbock’s two-volume edition of James’s letters was published in 1920, the number of articles rose to thirty-two; even the publication of Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction (1921), which closely considered James’s The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Awkward Age, failed to generate...

  8. 4: A Life of the Master: Leon Edel’s Henry James and Its Influence on Criticism
    (pp. 61-74)

    From 1953, with the publication of Henry James: The Untried Years, until his death in 1997, Leon Edel dominated James studies. Besides his five-volume life of James (the last volume of which appeared in 1972), Edel edited James’s notebooks and a four-volume selection of his letters, wrote essays and delivered lectures about James, reviewed books related to James’s work and to the members of his family, and provided introductions for reprints of James’s major works, including a twelve-volume set of The Complete Tales of Henry James. In short, for more than forty years, one hardly could read anything by or...

  9. 5: Critical Revisions: James in the Academy
    (pp. 75-94)

    Beginning in the 1960s, interest in James shifted to the academy, and those writing about James increasingly were scholars trained in literary analysis and theory. Biographical information emerging from Leon Edel’s study inspired a Freudian reading of some of James’s fiction, but other critical perspectives also informed James studies, including feminist, Marxist, and reader-response criticism; semiotics; the psychoanalytic criticism of Jacques Lacan; and the cultural criticism of Michel Foucault. Dorothy McInnis Scura’s Henry James, 1960–1974: A Reference Guide and Judith Funston’s Henry James, 1975–1987: A Reference Guide show that James studies has developed into a major scholarly industry,...

  10. 6: Jamesian Consciousness: Mind, Morality, and the Problem of Truth
    (pp. 95-113)

    In his own time, James’s interest in his characters’ minds seemed a shortcoming to readers who failed to identify with men and women who intellectualized — felt and observed — rather than acted. During the James renaissance of the 1940s, however, critics increasingly focused on James’s attention to the mind. Osborn Andreas, for example, in Henry James and the Expanding Horizon (1948), called James “the novelist of consciousness,” for whom thinking was an act of freedom and creativity. Indeed, Andreas wrote, “creative awareness of things” was, for James, the greatest good (1). By the 1960s, many scholars decided that James’s...

  11. 7: Gender, Sexuality, Intimacy
    (pp. 114-136)

    The extent to which James wrote from his own experiences has long been an important question for James scholars. What kind of experiences did he have? Did his range of experiences go beyond observation and contemplation? What was the quality of his closest friendships? Did he ever have a physical relationship with anyone? These questions concerning James’s experiences urge scholars to focus on his capacity for intimacy, and that focus has led, in the last few decades especially, to the fraught and controversial topic of sex. As Hugh Stevens remarked in a 1998 essay about “In the Cage,” “The story...

  12. Selected Henry James Bibliography First Editions
    (pp. 137-140)
  13. Works Consulted
    (pp. 141-156)
  14. Index
    (pp. 157-162)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 163-163)