Short Cuts

Thomas Jones

Here’s a question: who do you suppose wrote the following pitiful scene?

A restless, sad, longing little heart was beating under a worn calico dress, in a little room in Fourth Street. Tears as warm and grief swollen as any that gush from woman’s eyes crept down the cheek a little farther, waited, trembled, and then swelling as the bosom swells with sighs, ran down the maiden’s cheek, and fell upon the faded chintz.

You guessed it. Who could it be but Henry James? There would be no shame in your not recognising this as James’s work, however: it has languished in peaceful obscurity for more than 140 years, only now to have its authorship revealed by Floyd Horowitz, recently retired from the English department at Hunter College, New York. The passage is the opening of a story called ‘Alone’ that appeared – anonymously – in the Newport Mercury of 27 July 1861, and has been resurrected and attributed to James by Professor Horowitz in The Uncollected Henry James: Newly Discovered Stories (Duckworth, £20). The unhappy maiden is a seamstress in love with her employer.

To salvage these tales, Horowitz has spent close to thirty years trawling the many periodicals that published short fiction in the mid-19th century. Reading ‘The Story of a Year’, the first signed story of James’s to be published, in the Atlantic Monthly of March 1865, and ‘A Tragedy of Error’, an anonymous story that appeared in the Continental Monthly of February 1864 and is generally accepted to be James’s work (it’s included in Leon Edel’s edition of the shorter fiction), Horowitz became convinced that they were much too sophisticated, ‘structurally, symbolically and thematically’, to be the work of a ‘novice writer’. That James had almost certainly written stories before doesn’t mean they’d been published, but this didn’t deter Horowitz. As he read the Newport Mercury, the Knickerbocker and Arthur’s Home Magazine, ‘slowly, among these hundreds and then thousands of stories, using a set of critical discriminators, I began to identify what I thought might be stories written by Henry James.’

He then subjected his hunches to rigorous stylometric testing, checking their diction against the 20,783 words known to have been written by James between 1858 and 1871. Horowitz, who used to be the chairman of the computer science department at the University of Kansas, explains his method in a complicated appendix. The upshot of it all is that he claims to have identified an astonishing 72 stories by James, and a further 12 that are ‘probably’ by him. If Horowitz is right, then James had nearly twice as many stories published as was previously thought.

If Horowitz is right. All his evidence is internal: first, his instincts as a reader; but his desire to find stories by James should have made him warier of trusting his instincts than he seems to have been. Second, his analysis of word frequencies, a technique that Donald Foster used in order to finger Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors: he was proved right when Klein (eventually) owned up, as James isn’t in a position to do; and Foster changed his mind about another of his celebrated attributions, of ‘A Funerall Elegye in memory of the late Vertuous Maister William Peeter’ to Shakespeare. Third, Horowitz, having investigated the contents of James’s father’s library, found in the 72 stories an intricate web of allusion to Edward Lane’s Arabian Nights, the second edition of William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Liddell and Scott’s Greek lexicon, Anthon’s Latin primer and the King James Bible. Horowitz’s second appendix is entitled ‘Allusion as Proof in the Search for Henry James’. But allusion is very difficult to prove. Even if the allusions that Horowitz has identified are indeed there, and even if they are deliberate, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were made by James: none of the books referred to was especially rare.

‘The Pair of Slippers’, the earliest of the stories, was written in 1852, when James was only nine years old (not ten, as Horowitz has it). It’s about a miserly merchant in Baghdad getting his comeuppance. Horowitz believes that the author is playing a pointlessly convoluted game, building the story around a few English words that appear on the same page of his Latin vocab. As if it weren’t already ‘difficult to believe’, as Sheldon Novick, one of James’s biographers, put it in the Boston Globe, ‘that a nine-year-old had the interest or the ability’ to write the story at all, ‘or that having done it he would keep it a secret even from his family’. And ‘The Pair of Slippers’ must have slipped James’s mind when, 56 years later, in the preface to the New York Edition of What Maisie Knew, he wrote: ‘Small children have many more perceptions than they have terms to translate them; their vision is at any moment much richer, their apprehension even constantly stronger, than their prompt, their at all producible, vocabulary.’ The last of Horowitz’s finds, ‘How Belle Million Found Her Husband’, was published in 1870, five years after ‘The Story of a Year’. Why did James continue writing anonymously after he had been published under his own name? Because he didn’t want to be acknowledged as the author of his less good work? Or is it simply the case that ‘Belle Million’ has to be included because it’s one of several stories by ‘Leslie Walter’, which Horowitz is convinced is James’s favourite pseudonym?

The 25 stories in The Uncollected Henry James ‘were chosen’, Horowitz says in his foreword, ‘as a sampling of James’s unacknowledged publications for their use of Swedenborgian ideas related to stages of maturing in a spiritually framed person’. James’s father was a Swedenborg scholar, but the contortions of the Uncollected’s apparatus at times make you wonder if the enterprise isn’t an elaborate Nabokovian joke. ‘A Swedenborgian inevitability drives the narrative’ in ‘Alone’, Horowitz says. ‘In the emotionally turbulent course of the story, Jennie, whose name means "grace of the Lord” in Hebrew, fulfils her destiny as she is elevated to the status of a Swedenborgian angel through the marriage of her spirit, her inner beauty, to Mr Brewer’s truth.’ Maybe, though poor heroines have been marrying their boss Mr B. at least since the time of Richardson’s Pamela.

It is impossible to say for certain, in the absence of any external evidence – a cache of letters, for example (‘Dear Mr James, thank you for your story "Alone", concerning the authorship of which we shall of course maintain absolute confidentiality; please find enclosed by way of remuneration’ etc) – that any of these stories is definitely by Henry James. By the same token, it’s impossible as yet to say for sure that none of them is, though if anyone ever discovers that Leslie Walter was either a real person or the pseudonym of someone other than James, there won’t be much left of Horowitz’s thesis. Even if these stories aren’t by James, however, they do represent one of the contexts in which he started writing, a context that John Sutherland describes as being ‘interestingly Jamesian’. Besides, searching out unattributed work by major writers is a much more worthwhile enterprise than claiming, like Mr Mybug in Cold Comfort Farm, that Branwell Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, or Sir Walter Raleigh the complete works of Shakespeare.