A.D. Moody, 19 June 1980
James’s world in these letters of 1875-1883 – the years, roughly, from The American to The Portrait of a Lady – is already the world of such great late works as The Awkward Age, The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove. They are the letters of a consciously cosmopolitan observer of European manners, but their decorum, even while he is being gathered to the bosom of English ‘Society’, is always that of the circle of family and friends in Boston to whom most of them are addressed. Yet, so like is this decorum to that of the novels, in what is thought fit for conversation (‘what are letters but talk?’ James wrote in 1882, in a letter printed by Lubbock but not included by Edel) and in the constant play of discrimination which points the talk and makes it ‘good’, that one can see how much James viewed his world through the eyes of his family and their New England acquaintance. It was their Idealism which enabled him to wrest his international scene into art.