This biography will draw out these two women in their own terms, marking the points at which they intersect with the shaping consciousness of Henry James. The mystery is why he kept them under wraps: his reasons for doing so, and for the weird behaviour which the circumstances of Fenimore's death provoked, remain to be uncovered.
The real Henry James will never stand up – that's his greatest legacy
He did not forget them; on the contrary, they return obsessively in his works. James is the most elusive and unwilling of subjects. He drew out others with intent curiosity. Eliot recognised. His awareness of buried possibilities, the gifts of the obscure, and gaps between the facts, invites the infinite challenge of his own life.
To approach James at precisely the points he screened raises the issue of the biographer's right to know.
Questionable as this is, it does grant access to a more compelling and dangerous character, as well as a new reading of the major novels and a host of puzzling tales. James was a man of secrets, sunk from sight a hundred years ago. Why did he lock away his photograph of Minny Temple? Why, when ten and a half thousand letters of Henry James were allowed to survive, did he make a pact with Fenimore to destroy their correspondence?
No other such pact is known. And why, when Fenimore died, did he travel all the way to Venice to ensure secrecy in April ? Sinking her dresses at that time was not, I believe, a casual act, but sign of a strange bond which James guarded with discretion, and which suicide almost exposed. At the height of their relationship, in , they shared a house on the hill of Bellosguardo near Florence. Two other stays abroad were kept wholly secret, as were many short visits. Yet some residue of an alternative story does remain: amongst the leavings, four letters from Mary Temple to Henry James, and a large batch of her letters to John Chipman Gray, the ones James destroyed but Mrs William James had the forethought to copy before handing them over.
Her copy is amongst the James papers at Harvard together with an unnoticed batch of letters from James to Minny's niece Bay Emmet, which bear on the closest fictional re-creation of Minny in The Wings of the Dove. In Ohio, there are two records of Fenimore's last days where facts fit with revealing clarity.
Four letters from Fenimore to James in the early s fell through the net, while many letters from Fenimore to others lie buried amongst the papers of various men of some importance in their day. James's own letters are, for the most part, too public, too busy, too fulsome to give much away. Now and then, he cast off this social being with raging impatience.
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His fables of a writer's life instruct us to start with the work. It tells you with a perfection that seems to me quite final all the author thinks James was irresistible to women because he met authenticity without fear, possessed himself of it, and put it out to play on the stage of his imagination.
It was necessary to his purpose to engage certain women in ways which remain to be defined. Instead, we shall follow an inchoate, troubled man who remained in the making to the end of his life. This James is not passive; he is wilful, even ruthless, and stranger than he appeared respectably clothed under an umbrella of benevolence. The real James remained an American: a visionary moralist, he did not indulge in the European vogue for decadence.
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He was not a cynic. The vision of James has outlived the disillusion of the twentieth century; as the Moderns move farther into the past, he is with us, more than ever our contemporary. A reinvention of manhood began with Civil War tales where wounded, dying men discover a higher form of manhood than may be found on the battlefield or in the drawing-room. He marked the capacity of men and women to transcend themselves in the face of mortality. As the edition in two volumes was going to press, four members of the James family — Harry, his siblings Billy and Peggy, and their mother — pored over the letters, demanding further cuts.
Even though they worked hard at sanitising the letters, the family still worried that too much had been revealed. Poor dear Uncle Henry. Soon afterwards, when Harry was approached by Hendrik Andersen, the young sculptor who had known James in Rome, seeking permission to publish the 78 letters from James he had received, some of them quite ardent, Harry refused. The revival of interest began among ordinary readers in the s.
In the US, 30 of his titles would reappear in print between and The large collection of James papers housed eventually in the Houghton Library at Harvard was guarded with fierce anxiety by Harry. Once he began to work on his biography of James, Edel won the trust of the James family, even after the death of Harry in When the Anderson letters were eventually sold to the University of Virginia, Edel successfully sought to have access restricted, as he did with other caches of James letters. When sections of the Anderson letters were published in an American magazine, Billy threatened the law.
And indeed in the new biographers of James by Fred Kaplan and Sheldon Novick, and especially by Lyndall Gordon, a new James began to emerge, free of the control exerted by members of his family. But the book that made all the difference was published in Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick became the bible for gay studies and queer theory in universities. It proposed an entire new way of reading James as a gay writer whose efforts to remain in the closet gave him his style and may, in fact, have been his real subject, all the more present for being secret and submerged.
But it removed James from the realm of dead white males who wrote about posh people.
He became our contemporary. Quoted in E. Harden, A Henry James Chronology , p. Kindle Edition. New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 May Archived from the original on 24 April The Guardian. Archived from the original on 28 May Alfred A. Retrieved 27 January University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved 27 February Henry James: Letters, Vol. Harvard University Press. Retrieved 17 February Wells, Boon p. London: Hesperus Press, "The elegiac tone of the novel did not appeal to periodical editors, and the novel went straight into book form in , ahead of The Ambassadors , which ran in the North American Review from January to December and was published as a book later that same year.
Archived from the original on 22 February Retrieved 10 February Retrieved 10 August Somerset Maugham, The Vagrant Mood, p Retrieved 7 December Archived from the original on 14 July Archived from the original on 5 March Harold Bloom . Henry James.
Infobase Publishing , originally published by Chelsea House. An Introduction to American Literature. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. Theodora Bosanquet Henry James At Work. Haskell House Publishers Inc. Bradley, ed. Henry James and Homo-Erotic Desire.
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Palgrave Macmillan. Bradley Henry James's Permanent Adolescence. Lewis Dabney, ed. The Portable Edmund Wilson. Dupee Leon Edel , ed. Henry James Letters. Leon Edel, ed.