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Last Man of Letters

Frank Kermode, 15 September 1983

The Forties: From the Notebooks and Diaries of the Period 
by Edmund Wilson, edited and introduced by Leon Edel.
Macmillan, 369 pp., £14.95, August 1983, 0 333 21212 6
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The Portable Edmund Wilson 
edited by Lewis Dabney.
Penguin, 647 pp., £3.95, May 1983, 0 14 015098 6
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To the Finland Station 
by Edmund Wilson.
Macmillan, 487 pp., £5.95, September 1983, 0 333 35143 6
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... of the preparation for their publication before his death in 1972. The Forties is wholly edited by Leon Edel, who says in his Preface that this decade, at any rate the first half of it, is pretty scrappy so far as journal entries go, and it has to be said that the whole collection does Wilson no good whatsoever: which, considering his genuine ...

A Conversation with Gore Vidal

Thomas Powers: Meeting Gore Vidal, 31 July 2014

... had asked him, Straight simply said: ‘Well, he left, that’s all …’ I suggested he ask Leon Edel, since Edel had access to all the diaries and letters and would probably know the answer. This led inevitably to a much larger subject: had Edel deliberately suppressed ...

Making sentences

Philip Horne, 21 November 1991

The Jameses: A Family Narrative 
by R.W.B. Lewis.
Deutsch, 696 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 233 98748 7
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Meaning in Henry James 
by Millicent Bell.
Harvard, 384 pp., £35.95, October 1991, 9780674557628
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... perspectives powerfully applied to the family’s relations and texts, soon after his death, by Leon Edel in his multi-volume life of Henry James. As a Harvard professor, Matthiessen had been, under the terms laid down by the James estate, one of the very few permitted to use the huge family archive in the Houghton Library: in effect, as a ...


Tony Tanner, 22 April 1993

The Correspondence of William James. Vol. I: William and Henry 1861-1884 
edited by Ignas Skrupskelis and Elizabeth Berkeley.
Virginia, 477 pp., £39.95, January 1993, 0 8139 1338 1
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Henry James: The Imagination of Genius 
by Fred Kaplan.
Hodder, 620 pp., £25, November 1992, 9780340555538
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... later: ‘I feel as if you were one of the 2 or 3 sole intellectual & moral companions I have.’ Leon Edel, in his majestic biography of Henry James, stressed what he saw as a deep unconscious rivalry between the brothers, which pulled against their more consciously maintained fraternal affection. If there is a fault in that magisterial biography it is ...

The Henry James Show

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 7 January 1988

Henry James: A Life 
by Leon Edel.
Collins, 740 pp., £25, July 1987, 0 00 217870 2
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The Complete Notebooks of Henry James 
edited by Leon Edel and Lyall Powers.
Oxford, 662 pp., £25, March 1987, 0 19 503782 0
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... public and his more popular rivals, not his future biographers. But in the context of Leon Edel’s longstanding defence of the biographer’s art, his reading of the story as one in which ‘the creative imagination triumphs over the mundane’ and ‘the keeper of the shrine pays his tribute to art by being imaginative himself’ is ...


Harry Ricketts, 16 March 1989

Rudyard Kipling 
by Martin Seymour-Smith.
Macdonald, 373 pp., £16.95, February 1989, 0 356 15852 7
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... Speculation, Leon Edel remarks in his one-volume life of Henry James, is ‘the stock-in-trade of all biographers’. But if all biographers speculate, some do so more scrupulously and convincingly than others. Edel, for instance, is both meticulous and plausible. The same can hardly be said of Martin Seymour-Smith in his new critical biography of Kipling ...

A Man with My Trouble

Colm Tóibín: Henry James leaves home, 3 January 2008

The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume I 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 391 pp., £57, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2584 8
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The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1855-72: Volume II 
edited by Pierre Walker and Greg Zacharias.
Nebraska, 524 pp., £60, January 2007, 978 0 8032 2607 4
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... to illegible ashes – ‘as a kind of sadism on posterity’, in the words of his biographer Leon Edel. James was fully alert to the power of letters, having paid close attention to the published correspondence of Balzac, Flaubert and George Sand, and alert to the power of editors. After reading Sidney Colvin’s edition of the letters of his friend ...

Fine Chances

Michael Wood, 5 June 1986

Literary Criticism 
by Henry James, edited by Leon Edel.
Cambridge, 1500 pp., £30, July 1985, 0 521 30100 9
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Henry James: The Writer and his Work 
by Tony Tanner.
Massachusetts, 142 pp., £16.95, November 1985, 0 87023 492 7
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... essays on Tennyson’s plays and on Ibsen. Then I unravelled the phrase (offered by the editor, Leon Edel): ‘the complete literary-critical non-fictional writings of the novelist’. Meaning, it seems, not the writing on drama, art or travel, and not the literary criticism contained or enacted in the stories. It is in ‘Greville Fane’, for ...

Henry James’s Christmas

P.N. Furbank, 19 July 1984

Henry James Letters. Vol. IV: 1895-1915 
edited by Leon Edel.
Harvard, 835 pp., £24, April 1984, 9780674387836
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... as possible, and having plenty of distractions. This brings us to a major issue in regard to Leon Edel’s great edition, now concluded, of the Letters. It could be argued that to be as un-‘Freudian’ as James makes you an ideal subject for Freudian study. This does not seem quite to be Edel’s ...

Death and the Maiden

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 6 August 1981

Alice James 
by Jean Strouse.
Cape, 367 pp., £9.95, February 1981, 0 224 01436 6
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The Death and Letters of Alice James 
edited by Ruth Bernard Yeazell.
California, 214 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 520 03745 6
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... not offered her one; and her mother’s example was inappropriate: she wasn’t like her mother. Leon Edel, in his Life of Henry James, sees Alice as a casualty not so much of the family as of the age: ‘In our time,’ he says, ‘she might have learned to play tennis, to swim, to row, to ski, to drive a car.’ It’s hard to think of Henry in any ...

Liberated by His Bite

Andrew Delbanco, 19 September 1996

Our Vampires, Ourselves 
by Nina Auerbach.
Chicago, 238 pp., £17.50, November 1995, 0 226 03201 9
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... when its sexual content is muted, can be linked to a broader tradition of psychological fiction. Leon Edel wrote years ago of ‘the vampire theme’ in the fiction of Henry James; and Keats’s biographer Walter Jackson Bate wrote (with some scepticism) about the possibility that ‘Lamia’ represented Keats’s transformation of Fanny Brawne into the ...


A.D. Moody, 19 June 1980

Henry James. Letters. Volume II: 1875-1883 
edited by Leon Edel.
Macmillan, 438 pp., £15, March 1980, 0 333 18045 3
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Henry James: The Later Novels 
by Nicola Bradbury.
Oxford, 228 pp., £12, December 1979, 0 19 812096 6
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... 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 ...

I only want the OM

Christopher Tayler: Somerset Maugham, 1 September 2005

Somerset Maugham: A Life 
by Jeffrey Meyers.
Vintage, 411 pp., £12, April 2005, 1 4000 3052 8
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... determined not to make the same mistakes as Henry James, whom he knew and disliked. (According to Leon Edel, he was fond of ‘telling his friends of an alleged attempt by Hugh Walpole to violate the Master, and of James’s passionate recoil’.) Maugham was present on the opening night of Guy Domville in 1895 and seems not to have sympathised when his ...


Richard Altick, 19 July 1984

Thomas Carlyle: A Biography 
by Fred Kaplan.
Cambridge, 614 pp., £25, January 1984, 0 521 25854 5
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Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages 
by Phyllis Rose.
Chatto, 318 pp., £11.95, March 1984, 0 7011 2825 9
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A Carlyle Reader 
edited by G.B. Tennyson.
Cambridge, 544 pp., £25, May 1984, 0 521 26238 0
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... may lurk beneath, as a speculative and analytical biographer such as Henry James’s apostle, Leon Edel, has never hesitated to do. Although Kaplan speaks of the ‘risks’ that Carlyle believed a biographer should accept, he himself is cautious enough. He devotes his pages almost entirely to the outward events, chiefly domestic, of what he rightly ...

At Miss Whitehead’s

Edward Said, 7 July 1994

The Sixties: The Last Journal, 1960-1972 
by Edmund Wilson, edited by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 968 pp., $35, July 1993, 0 374 26554 2
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... The Sixties, the last in a series of his notebooks, most of them, though not this one, edited by Leon Edel. As with all of Wilson’s prose I was easily borne along by the intermittent and casual elegance of his expression. But that there is so little of real substance in the book, and so much nasty gossip, idle observation, inconsequential nattering ...

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