The Altar of Henry James (1943)
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This is, perhaps, an unfortunate title; it does not refer, for example, to the increasing number of people who have been throwing themselves at the feet of Henry James in the last few years. At least a half-dozen full-length studies of his work are in preparation; not all of his books are easily available on the market; his reputation is higher than at any moment in his own lifetime. It is dear enough that to the present generation he means something more than to the generation of Van Wyck Brooks and Lewis Mumford or to the addled and intolerant generation of the thirties. Also clear is that what he means is something different. To say what this something is in every case is, of course, impossible. What this article undertakes is to suggest that if he makes such a great appeal to so many of us today it must be because there lies at the center of his work something that corresponds to our deepest contemporary needs and hopes. It raises the question of what was James’s own altar — or, if one prefers, the particular object of piety to which he was able to devote himself at the end.
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