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A World of Waste

Philip Horne, 1 September 1983

The Proprietor 
by Ann Schlee.
Macmillan, 300 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 333 35111 8
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Slouching towards Kalamazoo 
by Peter De Vries.
Gollancz, 241 pp., £7.95, August 1983, 0 575 03306 1
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by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver.
Secker, 121 pp., £7.95, August 1983, 0 436 08272 1
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The Loser 
by George Konard, translated by Ivan Sanders.
Allen Lane, 315 pp., £8.95, August 1983, 0 7139 1599 4
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... are traceable until after the New Year, and it is tempting to surmise that none were written.’ Leon Edel has said that ‘a modern biographer ... is primarily a storyteller,’ and the common aspiration of biographers towards the authority of the novelist can irritate those who want to know why ‘X must have felt a or b.’ Ann Schlee takes the ...

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 ...

Bow. Wow

James Wolcott: Gore Vidal, 3 February 2000

Gore Vidal 
by Fred Kaplan.
Bloomsbury, 850 pp., £25, October 1999, 0 7475 4671 1
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... Kaplan meets the challenge of Vidal’s cagey wit by bearing down even harder, giving him the full Leon Edel-Matthew Bruccoli filing-cabinet treatment. For years Vidal has made fun of ‘scholar-squirrels’ – myopic trivia buffs who comb the lives of Hemingway and Fitzgerald hoping to find the one itty-bitty piece of factual lint no one else has ...

What Henry didn’t do

Michael Wood: ‘The Master’, 18 March 2004

The Master 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 360 pp., £15.99, March 2004, 0 330 48565 2
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... but acknowledges, with a little humour of his own, that ‘the great reformers never have it.’ Leon Edel, the editor of the letters, suggests James ‘is being coy about the entire subject’, but he seems rather to be busy saying several things at once. ‘Outpourings’, ‘exhibition’ and ‘capital sport’ allow for a normative sense of ...

By All Possible Art

Tobias Gregory: George Herbert, 18 December 2014

Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert 
by John Drury.
Penguin, 396 pp., £9.99, April 2014, 978 0 14 104340 1
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... than we do about Dickens or Henry James. My father tells an anecdote about James’s biographer Leon Edel: when asked what James would have been doing at this hour on this date in 1895, Edel stroked his chin and constructed an answer. The digital footprints that we now generate daily will give the biographers of the ...

I can’t, I can’t

Anne Diebel: Edel v. the Rest, 21 November 2013

Monopolising the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship 
by Michael Anesko.
Stanford, 280 pp., £30.50, March 2012, 978 0 8047 6932 7
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... own efforts to determine his posthumous reputation but quickly locks focus on the biographer Leon Edel’s alliance with James’s nephew Harry, which allowed Edel to gain control of the James papers. The second half of the book is an entertaining takedown of the unscrupulous ...

Don’t Ask Henry

Alan Hollinghurst: Sissiness, 9 October 2008

by Howard Sturgis.
NYRB, 345 pp., £8.99, May 2008, 978 1 59017 266 7
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... unintellectual’; but they might just as well have been the choice of Howdie, who as Leon Edel remarked was ‘not at all intellectual’ himself. Sturgis had an exceptionally good cook, and the dyspeptic Henry James complained of a sense of ‘repleteness before (even) dinner’. Still, he clearly enjoyed the Qu’Acre atmosphere of gossipy ...

The Art of Being Found Out

Colm Tóibín: The need to be revealed, 20 March 2008

... 1891, staying at the Marine Hotel in Kingstown in Ireland, James, described by his biographer Leon Edel as someone ‘in search of, in flight from, something or other’, had the idea for his story ‘The Private Life’, in which the sociable writer in the drawing-room could at the same moment be found alone with his other self in his ...

Henry James and Romance

Barbara Everett, 18 June 1981

Henry James Letters. Vol. III: 1883-1895 
edited by Leon Edel.
Macmillan, 579 pp., £17.50, March 1981, 0 333 18046 1
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Culture and Conduct in the Novels of Henry James 
by Alwyn Berland.
Cambridge, 231 pp., £17.50, April 1981, 0 521 23343 7
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Literary Reviews and Essays, A London Life, The Reverberator, Italian Hours, The Sacred Fount, Watch and Ward 
by Henry James.
Columbus, 409 pp., £2.60, February 1981, 0 394 17098 9
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... Some things probably came near to defeating him, though he records them desperately. Professor Edel chooses to end his volume – to bring down the curtain, so to speak – on the letter in which James describes his awful humiliation at the booing of Guy Domville, himself bowing on stage with a rigid politeness. And one death among the many that darken the ...

Roaming the Greenwood

Colm Tóibín: A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods, 21 January 1999

A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition 
by Gregory Woods.
Yale, 448 pp., £24.95, February 1998, 0 300 07201 5
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... was in fact the very life that James chose to live, or was forced to live. ‘In all his work,’ Leon Edel wrote, ‘there is no tale written with greater investment of personal emotion.’ In ‘The Beast in the Jungle’, James’s solitary existence is shown in its most frightening manifestation: a life of pure coldness. The story includes the ...


Andrew O’Hagan: The Bournemouth Set, 21 May 2020

... Park. ‘Instead of superficial contacts with the British upper classes,’ James’s biographer Leon Edel reports, ‘James began to form friendships of a more significant kind – with members of his own class, the writers and artists of London.’ There was something in the air of the early 1880s and he began to allow it to enter his mind, an air ...

‘I thirst for his blood’

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Henry James, 25 November 1999

Henry James: A Life in Letters 
edited by Philip Horne.
Penguin, 668 pp., £25, June 1999, 0 7139 9126 7
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A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Chatto, 500 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 7011 6166 3
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... challenge for an editor. Far from constituting a complete edition, as is sometimes imagined, Leon Edel’s four volumes of Henry James Letters (1974-84) in fact contain fewer than a tenth of the letters thought to survive. (Horne puts the likely range at 12,000 to 15,000, with some estimates of the total actually written as high as 40,000.) The ...


J.I.M. Stewart, 23 October 1986

H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal 
by David Smith.
Yale, 634 pp., £18.50, September 1986, 0 300 03672 8
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... and James’s own fiction, because he had never ‘got over his below-stairs origins’. Such is Leon Edel’s phrase as he addresses himself, in his biography of James, to the vicious if often witty extravaganza of Boon. And Edel sees the entire issue as concretised in a single word: ‘James had called Wells ...

Different Speeds, Same Furies

Perry Anderson: Powell v. Proust, 19 July 2018

Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time 
by Hilary Spurling.
Hamish Hamilton, 509 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 241 14383 4
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... there is little consistency. James died in his early seventies, Musil in his early sixties: Leon Edel and Karl Corino awarded them each two thousand pages. Kafka, who barely reached the age of forty, yielded only five hundred fewer from Reiner Stach. Proust, expiring at 51, got just under a thousand apiece from Jean-Yves Tadié and William ...

In what sense did she love him?

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Constance Fenimore Woolson, 8 May 2014

The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson 
edited by Sharon Dean.
Florida, 609 pp., £71.95, July 2012, 978 0 8130 3989 3
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... read these days, and she figures primarily as a character in someone else’s story. Ever since Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James, in which she appears as a lonely spinster with an ear trumpet and an unrequited passion for her fellow novelist, speculation over the closeness of her friendship with James and the motives for her suicide has dominated ...

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