In response to:
Jacobiting from the September 26, 1963 issue
To the Editors:
Yes, I was sure that my Henry James and The Jacobites would go to a pro-Jamesian critic, because these Jamesian critics are the dominant group of reviewers featured in the New York Review.
But it was with a distinct sense of reliet, even gratitude, that I read R. P. Blackmur’s review of this book, since Mr. Blackmur belongs to the “Older Generation” of Jamesians who still preserve some sense of objectivity, of humor, and of critical decency—when compared with the younger generation of devout, fanatical and “total” Jamesians.
Granted Mr. Blackmur’s own view of Henry James, which I take up in the book he was attacking, I consider his piece to be a perfectly fair one. I am only somewhat puzzled, and amused, by his central criticism of my “method” which, as he says, would yield the same results on such writers as Stendhal, Balzac and Proust; while Twain, Melville and Whitman “would be cinches.” Well, it doesn’t. I consider Stendhal, Balzac and Proust to be great writers. The point is that, by this same method, I also rate Twain, Melville, and Whitman as major artists, along with Hawthorne, Dreiser, Faulkner and Hemingway.
And by this same method Henry James comes out not as a major figure at all, but as some kind of fantastic (and often quite fascinating) literary oddity. He is a master of a baroque type of literary entertainment…but…completely lacking in any of the common traits which all great writers share. That is the point of my book, which Mr. Blackmur somewhat uneasily perceives and almost admits.
Professor Blackmur writes:
I did not intend to imply that Mr. Geismar was himself likely to apply his method to the writers named, and I am sorry if I made him think so. I was merely thinking that his method would, if applied to the self-pity in Shakespeare, say, or to the gross vanity of Stendhal, reduce our estimation of those writers much as Mr. Geismar would reduce our estimation of James. It is a method, as Aristotle puts it (Poetics 1461 b.), where the critics “pass adverse judgment and then proceed to reason on it.” Of course there is great fun in the method, but great risks, too.
October 31, 1963