We now have the first two volumes of what will eventually be a 140-plus-volume set of the complete letters of Henry James. The entire collection of some ten thousand letters will be published by the University of Nebraska Press over the coming years. (The largest previous collection was Leon Edel’s four volumes of 1,084 letters published between 1974 and 1984.) This set will bring together letters scattered across many different archives and from many different books, some out of print; a quarter of the letters have never been published previously. The volumes are beautiful, solidly put together, with big type, wide margins, and copious annotations remarking on cross-outs and misspellings and new words written over old ones. All the foreign phrases are translated and potted biographies of the people mentioned are supplied. If James refers, for instance, to a story he’s written, the editors provide the reader in a note with the full name of the story and where it was published and when. At the end of each volume are an index, a bibliography of works cited, a biographical register, and even genealogical charts of the families intertwined with the James family.

In an effort to make the printed letters as close as possible to the holographs, the editors have adopted a system called “plain-text editing,” originated by Robert H. Hirst in his version of Mark Twain’s Letters. There are no emendations to correct spelling or punctuation errors or just errors of fact (though the mistakes are flagged in the notes). A simple line indicates where a word has been crossed out. Drawings that James included are rendered. The result of all this faithfulness to the original letters may seem a bit fussy but the text is easy to read and scholars who can’t consult the holographs or microfiches will be grateful for the variants. The net effect is to bring a high seriousness to letters that were usually dashed off; certainly the scholars preparing these volumes will have spent many more hours on each letter than did either James or the recipients he was addressing.

The letters are to close friends such as Minny Temple, the whole Sedgwick clan, Charles Eliot Norton and his various family members, and Thomas Sergeant Perry (one of Henry’s—and William’s—best friends, someone to whom Henry would write faithfully for nearly fifty years). Many of the letters, however, are addressed to his mother and father, his sister Alice, his older brother William, and occasionally to his two younger brothers or his Aunt Kate. Of course people write letters when they are traveling or when their friends and family members are abroad, which was the case of the letters in these two volumes, which cover the years from 1855 to 1872 and are devoted mainly to Henry’s European wanderings through England, France, Switzerland, and Italy, with time out for visits back to the United States.

Like all travelers he falls into the bad habit of comparing the characters of the various nationalities. He is a snob about Americans and their “vulgarity” and “commonness.” He sometimes refers to them wearily as “the dear Americans,” though he admits he is incurably and indelibly American himself. Similarly, William James could complain that English and French literature is “provincial” as compared to German literature. Europeans in general Henry reduces to “idlers & starers & self-absorbed pleasure seekers.” Paris he dislikes in its new streamlined aspect created in the immediately preceding years by Baron Haussmann. Rome he dubs “terrible serious Rome” though he is fascinated by it and writes, “I went reeling & moaning thro’ the streets, in a fever of enjoyment.” He is put off by Pope Pius IX (“I’m sure I saw one of the pontifical petticoats hanging out to dry”), and he prefers the bracing masculinity of the ancients to the Pope’s supposed effeminacy:

When you have seen that flaccid old woman waving his ridiculous fingers over the prostrate multitude & have duly felt the picturesqueness of the scene—& then turn away sickened by its absolute obscenity—you may climb the steps of the Capitol & contemplate the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

The English he is fond of and admires, though he dislikes their anti-intellectualism:

The English have such a mortal mistrust of any thing like “criticism” or “keen analysis” that I rarely remember to have heard on English lips any other intellectual verdict (no matter under what provocation) than this broad synthesis—“how immensely clever.” What exasperates you is not that they can’t say more, but that they wouldn’t if they could. Ah, but they are a great people, for all that.

Of course European travel was something James had known from his earliest childhood. Born in 1843, he was taken to Europe when he was one (his earliest memory was of the Place Vendôme in Paris). By the fall of 1844 the family was sailing back to New York, but from 1855 to 1858 (when Henry was age twelve to fifteen), they were in Europe again. Except for one childhood note that has been preserved, the earliest surviving letter was sent in 1858 from Boulogne on the English Channel to a pal, Ed Van Winkle, who’d written him a get-well letter (James was fourteen and was recovering from a grave case of typhus). The second move to Boulogne after a crash of the American stock market reminds the reader of James’s story “The Pupil,” in which nouveau pauvre American gentry keep moving through Europe just ahead of their bills.


Henry and William James were constantly being pulled out of one school (and country) and pushed into another institution or culture all through their childhoods. In Henry’s autobiography, A Small Boy and Others, he writes about his first schools (for there were often two or three in a given year):

We were day-boys, William and I, at dispensaries of learning the number and succession of which today excite my wonder; we couldn’t have changed oftener, it strikes me as I look back, if our presence had been inveterately objected to, and yet I enjoy an inward certainty that, my brother being vividly bright and I quite blankly innocuous, this reproach was never brought home to our house.

The problem was their father’s extremely changeable (even capricious) ideas about what would benefit his children. Henry James Sr. was “imperious” and “mercurial,” as Robert D. Richardson describes him in his magisterial recent biography, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism.* The elder James was the son of one of the richest men in America, though in later years Henry Jr. would wonder what had happened to those “golden three millions.” Henry Sr. had lost a leg when he was young and hobbled about on a wooden prosthesis (in Henry Jr.’s letters there are many anxious questions about the cyst that temporarily made wearing the wooden leg impossible). By turns generous-hearted and irascible, Henry Sr. had undergone in 1844 a terrible spiritual crisis (a “vastation” as he called it, using the Swedenborgian term) and after that he became a Swedenborgian, though not of the sort that any other Swedenborgian would have recognized.

His new philosophy provided him with strange and seemingly contradictory ideas. He used an intensely spiritual vocabulary—exalted, transcendental, morally demanding—but this otherworldliness did not distract him from interfering on nearly every mundane subject. He was opposed to his oldest son, William, pursuing painting and did everything to steer him toward science. He himself spoke French and not a word of German, but he pushed his boys constantly toward the study of German. He talked about sensual fulfillment with all the fervor of an earlier fellow Swedenborgian, William Blake, but counseled chastity until marriage. He’d enroll his boys in school in New York but change them from one institution to another. In 1853, for instance, when Henry was ten, he was sent to the Vergnès Institute for Young Gentlemen on East 10th Street, and then yanked out and enrolled at the school of a Mr. Richard Pulling Jenks on Broadway. The next year Henry Jr. and William were transferred to yet another school, this one on 14th Street. But their father was displeased with the possibilities in America for what he called, in a characteristically cryptic way, a “sensuous education.”

In 1855 he accordingly bundled the family off to Europe—to Geneva (surely the least sensuous city on the Continent), where little Henry was taught by French-speaking governesses, then sent to the Pensionnat Roediger. When their father’s enthusiasm for this institution inevitably waned they all moved to London where tutors were engaged again, though their governess Mlle Cusin was retained and brought over from Geneva to continue teaching them French. It was during these years that the boys acquired their nearly perfect and certainly idiomatic French; the self-critical James could say, “My French astounds me—its goodness is equalled only by its badness. I can be terribly spirituel, but I can’t ask for a candlestick.”

In later years Henry would be guilty of Gallicisms (“the actual President of the United States”) and would scrawl hasty notes to himself in French. His letters in these two volumes are peppered with French phrases, two or three a page. After addressing Thomas Sergeant Perry in French for a full page, Henry (at age twenty-four) switches back to English but deplores the loss of the intimate tu (“How detestable this you seems after using the Gallic toi!”). Some of the strangeness of James’s prose in these early letters can surely be explained by his translating back into English from French. For instance, when he writes Perry in 1860 from Paris he describes what he sees out the window of his hotel and refers to “a grasp of warriors” passing by (a phrase which surely began life as une poignée de guerriers). Or when James talks of a Swiss mountain trail that took eighteen years to “pierce,” he’s obviously translating back from percer. Richardson remarks on similar mistakes in William’s English, though in his case the source of the errors was German.


These years were a blur of constant toing and froing—a move to Paris in the summer of 1856, several transfers back and forth between Paris and Boulogne in 1857, a year in Newport in 1858 at the Berkeley Institute (named after the philosopher Bishop Berkeley, who had lived in Newport for three years in the eighteenth century), a return in 1859 to Geneva, a year later a new experiment—enrollment in a German school in Bonn—though by the end of 1860 they were all back in Newport.

The result of this jagged, caprice-driven education was that William and Henry Jr. finally ended up knowing very little that was taught in ordinary schools. They were good in French, and William had a smattering of German (though Henry Jr. resisted learning the language, maybe as a form of silent rebellion against his father and older brother, both of whom were so keen on it). They had been exposed to Latin and Greek but little Henry was “so backward in Latin” that he was refused entry in the Académie de Genève and was enrolled in a polytechnic school instead, where he was incapable of following the curriculum of mathematical and scientific courses and finally was limited to studying nothing but French and French literature.

As an adolescent, William, intent on becoming an artist, had studied painting and anatomy and drawing in Paris and later in Newport with William Morris Hunt. In fact it was William James who had insisted they all leave Paris, improbably, and move back to Newport so that he could become a painter there, of all places. When William was sixteen he wrote his friend Ed Van Winkle,

We have now been three years abroad. I suppose you would like to know whether our time has been well spent. I think that as a general thing, Americans had better keep their children at home.

In later years William would rebel against his father’s beliefs (of the five children he was the only one to tackle seriously his father’s nearly unreadable books of philosophy). As Richardson, speaking of a letter William wrote in 1867, puts it:

William’s own views were now, and had been for some time, almost diametrically opposed to those of Henry Senior. Father believed that just the spiritual was real; he had so little use for what he thought of as “low information” that he would not read his friend Wilkinson’s biography of Swedenborg, believing as he did that a narrative can be valuable only when read symbolically. William believed that the natural and the physical were what was real. Father had a private language in which he defined words such as “moralism” to mean what he said they meant, no more, no less. William was trying to master the accepted languages and methods of science and philosophy….

In some ways Henry Jr. remained more faithful to his father’s ideals—he, too, would see narrative in a symbolic light, and he, too, would put every moment of his tales and novels under a constant moral pressure—though his moral judgments remained elusive. And he, too, would practice a description, as Peter Brooks puts it,

that one might call “hypersignificant.” It doesn’t simply record the appearances of the real, it asks about their meaning, what they suggest and perhaps conceal, the context they provide for human thought and action.

When they were both still adolescents, Henry Jr. echoed his brother’s anti-European sentiment (“The more I see of this estrangement of American youngsters from the land of their birth, the less I believe in it”) but in fact he was not so dissatisfied. He might know little Latin and less Greek but he had his impressions. Throughout his life (and quite dramatically in these two earliest volumes of letters) James was to insist on the value of stored-up impressions; for him the picturesque counted heavily, in the double sense of something visual and something curious and foreign and yet typical. Speaking of his younger self in the third person, James wrote in his moving A Small Boy and Others about his unsupervised wanderings at a very young age around New York as he hoarded impressions:

For there was the very pattern and measure of all he was to demand: just to be somewhere—almost anywhere would do—and somehow receive an impression or an accession, feel a relation or a vibration.

He became at an early age addicted to “wondering and dawdling and gaping” and he was convinced he was profiting from his peregrinations. “What it at all appreciably gave him—that is gave him in producible form—would,” he writes, “be difficult to state; but it seems to him…an education like another; feeling…that no education avails for the intelligence that doesn’t stir in it some subjective passion….” William James, who received an MD at Harvard and went on to conduct rigorous scientific experiments, to be one of the founders of Pragmatism, and to study religious and psychic phenomena, might have raised an eyebrow about his younger brother’s “impressions” and “subjective passions,” but Henry (or “Harry” as he was called at this time) rejoiced in acquiring just such intangible capital.

Throughout the two volumes of letters there are many, many “impressions.” At sixteen he is writing Perry a detailed account of his teachers and unfriendly classmates in Geneva, and rather priggishly summarizing:

Here are five pages all about myself, but the reason I have written so much is because I like nothing better than for you to write about your own manners & customs….

Though James complains that his own letters are “lugubrious” and “egotistical” and that he has a heavy hand and can never rival Perry’s lightness and brilliance, nevertheless he begs Perry to keep them. In fact James informs his brother William, “You know, by the way, that I must economize & concentrate my scribblements & write my diary & letters all in one.” He hesitates in one letter to talk about Geneva for it “has not yet been fertile in sensations.” He writes to Charles Eliot Norton:

On the whole I try to make the most in the way of culture, of all my present opportunities. I think it is less of a privilege to see England than to see Italy, but it is a privilege nevertheless, & one which I shall not in future years forgive myself for having underestimated. It behooves me as a luckless American diabolically tempted of the shallow & the superficial, really to catch the flavor of an old civilization (it hardly matters which) & to strive to poise myself for one brief moment at least, in the attitude of observation.

Observing, estimating, tasting, absorbing—these are the cultured traveler’s duties, especially if he comes from such an intellectually impoverished country (and such an exalted, spiritual family). Of course in the day when postcards and photographs were still a rarity and a family could spend an entire evening studying a handful of photographs, a verbal description of a great painting still counted as an important document. James had seen no major Renaissance paintings before he traveled to Europe as an adult, and he is constantly astonishing and delighting his parents back in Newport or Cambridge with his battle reports from Florence or Venice or even the familiar Louvre.

When Grace Norton sends to William James a few photos of Siena, Henry Jr. tells her that his brother was enraptured and “that to him, for several days, they have been as meat & drink.” Henry adds that with her five or six months in Siena “you will have had a rich experience.” “Sensations” and “impressions” are what he values most, as well as “the thrilling, throbbing present” and “the rich acquisitions of these inestimable days.” This emphasis on experience in the abstract (rather than on concrete knowledge) would later become characteristic of James’s fiction. These youthful letters are already full of an unspecified sense of morality and of intellectual adventure devoid of content; as T.S. Eliot famously said, Henry James had “a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.”

James certainly wasn’t much interested in politics. He barely refers to the Civil War, in which his younger brothers participated and which he lived through in America. He writes to Perry from Northampton on October 28, 1864, that he’s heard they will be giving Colonel Lowell a “grand funeral” in Boston. He adds:

I hope it may be some comfort to his poor wife. By Jove, by moments what an awful thing this war is! I mean for wives, etc. I went up Mount Holyoke t’other day for the 2d time. Of all the concentrated vulgarities it is the greatest.

So much for the war. We can see in this edition that James struck out the phrase “by moments,” but the impulse was trivializing in any event, and the sentiment is false and rushed.

He is no more impressed by the reunification of Italy in 1870 or in the same years the collapse of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, the brief reign of the French Commune, and the subsequent establishment of the Third Republic (which he predicts won’t last). Alfred Habegger writes in his graceful and enlightening introduction:

If one compares what the young traveler saw in fourteen months of Europe to what Tocqueville picked up during nine months of America (both writers having been about the same age), it becomes clear that James’s vision was confined to a small arc of the visible spectrum…. In fact, as he admitted more than once, he was unprepared for much of what he saw.

When it came to painting, one of the great themes of his youthful correspondence, his loyalties shift from Titian to Tintoretto to Michelangelo, but he is grudging about Raphael. He is particularly inspired about Tintoretto, whom he describes almost as if he were a realist novelist:

His especial greatness, I should be tempted to say lies in the fact that more than any painter yet, he habitually conceived his subject as an actual scene, which could not possibly have happened otherwise; not as a mere subject & fiction—but as a great fragment wrenched out of life & history, with all its natural details clinging to it & testifying to its reality.

He is awestruck by Tintoretto’s Miracle of Saint Mark “with life enough in it to animate a planet.” Just as he would later delight in the many rooms in the “house of fiction,” in Venice he was struck by the juxtaposition of Bellini and Tintoretto and

the vastness & strangeness of art, …to reflect upon their almost equal greatness & yet their immense dissimilarity, so that the great merit of each seems to have been that he possesses just those qualities the absence of which, apparently, ensures his high place to the other.

James had begun to write fiction during the period covered by these letters—a few short stories and a first novel, Watch and Ward. In the beginning he was extremely modest and a bit fearful about his literary future. To Perry he said in a letter,

I write little and only tales, which I think it likely I shall continue to manufacture in a hackish manner, for that which is bread. They cannot of necessity be very good, but they shall not be very bad.

To his sister he refers facetiously to “a slight romance from my facile pen.”

During his twenties most of James’s writerly efforts went toward turning out book reviews for The Nation and The Atlantic Monthly. At first he devoted an enormous amount of energy and subtlety to reviewing ephemeral books, but soon enough he began to tackle more serious things, Thoreau’s letters, new French fiction, and especially nonfiction by two of his favorite French writers, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (the very critic whose literary analyses Proust attacked as absurdly biographical in his Contre Sainte-Beuve) and Hippolyte Taine (whose influential history of English literature James reviewed for The Atlantic). As James told Perry in a letter,

Deep in the timorous recesses of my being is a vague desire to do for our dear old English letters and writers something of what Ste. Beuve & the best French critics have done for theirs.

Often James in these years speaks as if he wants to be a critic, not a novelist.

How different this young, hesitant James is from “the Master” of many years later. The University of Michigan Press has just rereleased Henry James at Work by his secretary, Theodora Bosanquet, to whom he dictated many of his late books and his three memoirs (one unfinished). Bosanquet emphasizes how utterly dedicated James was to his work and to his “scenic” method, which he had derived from his unsuccessful ventures into playwriting. She says he was “unusually impervious to everything which is not an impression of visual images or a sense of a human situation.” She cites passages from James’s notebooks in which he makes triumphant claims for his neglected art:

I simply make an appeal to all the powers and forces and divinities to whom I’ve ever been loyal and who haven’t failed me yet—after all; never, never yet!…

A comparison of James’s youthful letters with those of Marcel Proust (recently reissued in a charming 1949 translation by Mina Curtiss) reveals that both authors, though at different periods, were obsessed with visual art (as a young man Proust, born about thirty years after James, was translating two of Ruskin’s books), with their own health, and with society. Afflicted by asthma, Proust could never have climbed Swiss mountains as James did—though he did serve in the army, which James avoided doing during the Civil War. Proust was a stay-at-home except for a famous trip to Venice and his jaunts around Normandy. James had contempt for Boston and Cambridge society; his social ambitions were all to play themselves out eventually in Paris and London. For Proust letter-writing was mainly a way of staying in touch with the beau monde despite his invalidism—or a way to social-climb. Whereas James adopts a heavy-handed, teasing gallantry with his women friends, Proust is a shameless flatterer—in fact he raises flattery to grotesque new heights unusual even in the Belle Époque. In 1903 (when he was thirty-two) Proust writes the Comtesse de Noailles, in response to her letter after the death of Proust’s father:

You are too kind. In ages of faith, how natural it was to love the Holy Virgin—for she let the cripples touch the hem of her gown, and the lepers, the blind and all the sad of heart. But you are kinder still, and every new proof of the infinite generosity of your heart gives me a clearer understanding of the unshakeable foundation of your genius, rooted, as it is, in eternity. And if it annoys you a little to be an improvement on the Holy Virgin, I shall say that you are like the Carthaginian goddess who inspired lascivious ideas to many and longing for holiness in a few.

Was there ever a less appropriate response to a condolence note?

James has his own brand of camp (“the Florentines have great cheap brown eyes”), but nothing to compare with this silliness. James can refer to date palms as “perfect debauchees of light & heat” in a phrase that anticipates Ronald Firbank’s style of humor, just as he can plead that his bedroom be removed from its place over the family kitchen in Cambridge since he’s becoming “a little overdone.” At moments one doesn’t know if James is being camp, sententious, or just fatuous: “That Pompeii should be interesting I of course expected: it’s a way so many things have!” And, writing before the Oscar Wilde trial of 1895, he could afford to describe passing young men with drooling admiration while addressing his unsuspecting New England friends; Proust, writing after 1895 and to a cynical and fully advised Paris, was far more cautious.

The most peculiar letters in this collection are about James’s health. It seems that everyone in the James family (except the mother) was almost permanently ill, usually with back pains. Henry Jr. had injured his back in Newport as a volunteer firefighter, and his entire European hegira in 1869 and 1870 is justified as a way of overcoming his weak back. The cure is walking and more walking and mountain climbing—miles and miles every day. What is forbidden is reading or (even worse) writing, but of course this does not stop him. While Henry is suffering constant backaches and taking sitz baths in Malvern, a spa in England, or contemplating purchasing a corset, he is copiously consoling his brother William for his back problems.

But much weirder are Henry James’s complaints to his brother about his constipation. Pages and pages are devoted to detail about his lack of “movements,” the (literally) back-breaking burden of full bowels, the need for pills of all sorts, constant exercise, dietary restrictions, enemas, even electricity. (“I shall be glad enough to try it, if there is any prospect of its helping me,” he writes, asking if William himself has yet started to use “battery” with good results.) Henry announces to his brother that he has “a passionate desire for a reformation in my bowels.” As he tells his brother with a hushed sense of intimacy,

At this present moment of my writing, I know neither how I’m to do without a stool, nor how (in spite of the doctor’s pills, as yet) I am to get one. The whole matter occupies perforce (how gracefully!) the foreground of my thoughts & oppresses equally my mind & my body.

The bowel problem (“my moving intestinal drama”) only aggravates the problems with his back. If Peter Brooks in Henry James Goes to Paris is right in speculating that James had strong romantic attachments to men but never acted on them, then we might be tempted to think that this endless dithering about his bowels in extremely long letters to his beloved older medical brother represents a sort of displacement of erotic energy.

To be sure, health and money are inevitably tied together in the strange James family. James’s mother, for instance, will reproach her son for spending too much of his father’s money during his travels; James will then argue back that the whole trip is an important investment culturally and hygienically. As Brooks comments,

It was a typical James Family double-binding operation: on the one hand, paternal largesse and encouragement to pursue a writerly vocation, on the other hand the maternal censure for lack of thrift.

Brooks’s study begins with a discussion of 1875, the year James spent in Paris. He was writing The American, which takes place in Paris, and was meeting Turgenev (whom he idolized) and the most prominent French writers, including Flaubert, Maupassant, Zola, and Alphonse Daudet. He was going to the theater almost every night because he had so little society, even if he did for a while dine frequently (and improbably) with his fellow American Charles Sanders Peirce, a founder of Pragmatism. (Imagining their table talk might make a good subject for Tom Stoppard.) Brooks’s main thesis is that when James lived in Paris he “missed” much that was new and exciting. He didn’t really like Flaubert’s writing, he dismissed the Impressionists, and he found Wagner’s music “boring.” But twenty or more years later, Brooks argues, what James failed to appreciate at the time came back to haunt him and to affect his later great work. Though James was more of a Romantic realist in the tradition of Balzac (with a large taste for melodramatic kitsch and wild and improbable plot twists), he came to appreciate Flaubert’s exquisite style and measured realism and to write several important essays on him.

There are three great letters in these two volumes. On September 20, 1867, James tells Perry that there is nothing better than being an American. Then he adds:

We have exquisite qualities as a race, and it seems to me that we are ahead of the European races in the fact that more than either of them we can deal freely with forms of civilization not our own, can pick and choose and assimilate and in short (aesthetically etc.) claim our property wherever we find it. To have no national stamp has hitherto been a defect and a drawback; but I think it not unlikely that American writers may yet indicate that a vast intellectual fusion and synthesis of the various national tendencies of the world is the condition of more important achievements than any we have seen.

On May 10, 1869, he writes his father about meeting George Eliot—in a rushed, dramatic encounter, since the son of her companion George Lewes was howling in pain and writhing on the drawing room floor as his father went out searching for morphine; the young man would die a few months later from tuberculosis of the spine. James found Eliot fat (“she has a larger circumference than any woman I have ever seen”) and “magnificently ugly—deliciously hideous” with her “vast pendulous nose,” strong jaw, and huge (and nearly toothless) mouth. Then James adds,

Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, in falling in love with her.

James was to salute her last novel, Daniel Deronda, as the masterpiece that it is, though his reactions were so complex that he had to assign his various feelings to three different speakers in a shockingly anti-Semitic review. (One of the speakers talks of “a hard, big, Jewish nose.”)

The third great letter is about the early death of his spirited young cousin Minny Temple. Here he betrays the gift of noble and quirky phrase that would characterize his mature style. “The more I think of her the more perfectly satisfied I am to have her translated from this changing realm of fact to the steady realm of thought”:

Her presence was so much, so intent—so strenuous—so full of human exaction: her absence is so modest, content with so little. A little decent passionless grief—a little rummage in our little store of wisdom—a sigh of relief—and we begin to live for ourselves again.

He laments his fruitless attempt to transmute “a hard fact into a soft idea.”

Prophetically he writes (to his brother William, his most intimate correspondent):

Among all my thoughts & conceptions I am sure I shall never have one of greater sereneness & purity: her image will preside in my intellect, in fact, as a sort of measure and standard of brightness and repose.

And indeed his memories of this “pure American growth…locked away… within the crystal walls of the past” would inspire many of his most attractive American heroines, from Daisy Miller to Isabel Archer. Typically it is in these inspired metaphorical passages that James is most visual and visionary as he thinks of “my youth” that is “turning to gold in her bright keeping.”

This Issue

October 11, 2007