He Knew That He Knew What He Knew: Critical Preaching and Literary Practices of Henry James, Jr

  • Marjorie Kaufman


When Louisa May Alcott, dining with the Jameses sometime in March 1865, met the younger Henry James, she was amused that he, ‘being a literary youth’, advised her on her writing as if she were a girl and a novice, not a woman of thirty-one, ten years his senior (‘my curly crop made me look young’) and an already established author.1 But neither James’s chronological age nor Alcott’s hairstyle accounts for his tone and manner. In the year preceding that dinner James had published his first five literary reviews, each reflecting his serious attempt to educate readers and writers of currently popular American fiction to appreciate the qualities found in the work of contemporary European masters — Gautier, George Eliot, and, most particularly, Balzac. Offered such indigenous novels to consider as Harriet Elizabeth Prescott’s Azarian: An Episode and Mrs A. M. C. Seemuller’s Emily Chester, the young James, his tastes already sophisticated not only in the context of the James household and their European experience but also by the tutoring and friendship of the avant-garde Franco-American artist John La Farge, addressed his compatriots — obviously more provincial, though established, novelists — in avuncular tones: gentlemanly but firmly instructive, ironic yet (where possible) paternally encouraging.


Literary Practice Opening Sentence Romantic Attachment Young Writer Wilful Blindness 
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  1. 1.
    The Journals of Louisa May Alcott, ed. Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy (Boston, 1989), pp. 139, 147n.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Henry James Letters, ed. Leon Edel (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), vol. 1, p. 50.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1997

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  • Marjorie Kaufman

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