Clive Bush

Wily and Tough Man who Became an Insider

Henry James: A Life in Letters


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 668pp £25 order from our bookshop

‘He talks slowly but continuously’, said one of Henry James’s later amanuenses, who of course wrote most of it down. The writing-down in part produced what can only be called the ‘world’ of James’s Letters, with its distinctness from, yet relatedness to, the other magnificent worlds of the novels, the essays, the notebooks, the prefaces and the short stories. The letters of Henry James, variously collected, stand secure as one of the imaginative triumphs of the late nineteenth century and the early modern period. Estimates of how many letters he actually wrote vary from 15,000 to as many as 40,000. Next year the University of Nebraska Press will begin publication of all the extant letters, a project that will require thirty volumes. Any collection, therefore, of James’s letters before the Nebraska project is completed must be partial in scope. But this is no handicap, given that few will read that prospective thirty-volume work from end to end and that ‘completeness’ is in itself something of a mirage, especially with a writer whose best work reveals itself only through slow and attentive reading. Take my Golden Bowl five pages at a time, James once advised his close friend, the American novelist William Dean Howells.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,