"The Story In It": The Design of Henry James's "New York Edition"
Hicks, Priscilla Gibson
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Henry James regarded as "definitive" the selected edition of his Novels And Tales in twenty-four; volumes which he prepared for publication by Scribners in 1907-1909, not only because of its revisions and its prefaces but equally because he implied, through the order of its fictions, an interpretation of his artistic "case." The edition (involving, James said, "illuminatory classification, collocation, juxtaposition and separation throughout the whole series") builds an architecture; but this architecture is not, as Mr. Leon Edel has suggested, modelled on Balzac's divisions within La Comedie humaine, although James's sequence does have a relation to what for him was "the lesson of Balzac." James orders his series much as he composes his fictions: so that each unit makes a certain "germ" progressively clearer, or better-enforces the same (often intricate) idea. For this exfoliating type of design James often used the term "story." It is important to recognize this characteristic order in the "New York Edition" not for its complexity but because the design enforces James's interpretation of an aesthetic and an extra-aesthetic significance of his own "case." External evidence is limited and is not conclusive on the purpose of the architecture in the edition. This dissertation examines mainly internal evidence: James's preface statements and their sequence, and especially both the structural and the thematic features of each of the included fictions. By identifying an artistic "case," which he thought any critic's main task, James always means relating salient characteristics of the artist's production to the artist's prominent and enduring "conditions" of work. The volume divisions of the "New York Edition" are itsfundamental units, and groups of volumes comprise four major units: Volumes I-IX, X-XII, XIII-XVIII, XIX-XXIV. The arrangement of fictions within single volumes and of volumes within each of the major units unfolds the same meaning that the succession of major units also exfoliates. The order pervasively demonstrates what is James's "case" and that it evinces a "continuity" equally with a "growth." That is, James grew in the sense of intensifying his awareness of the same endeavor, or in the sense of "cultivating" his stable "operative consciousness" of difficulties always arising from the interplay of four of his enduring conditions. These conditions were: (1) his aim to write fiction such as would genuinely "represent" and represent.the human comedy in his time, (2) his command of details from but a limited number of areas of experience and from areas he considered peripheral (especially to the society--America--where lay his deepest roots), (3) his tendency to pursue all the relations between the details he did command, his sense that relations "end nowhere," (4) his necessity, for publication of his fiction, to compress it into briefer space than the ideal of artistic economy indicated, and to address an audience resistant to his understanding of worthwhile "life" or of "free spirit." The design of the edition stresses (a) that James's "case" was a successful one of having converted obstacle into aid through cultivating his awareness that difficulty was his "operative condition," (b) that this "case" shows composition of raw material to be any fiction writer's primary "resource" for representing "the real" and the human comedy, (c) that James's pursuit of thoroughness of composition enabled him to articulate a particular theme of great "civic use"--the theme that "free spirit" is inherently contagious and expansive through exchanges of consciousness in inter-personal relations. Perceiving that the design of the edition unfolds James's view· of his "case11 and of its importance solves many problems: for instance, why he has not placed all of his novels and nouvelles so as to trace his exact course of technical development; has not brought together all the fictions which use the supernatural; nowhere has juxtaposed sub-groups of his international stories; has ignored chronology so greatly and has not grouped by genre in Volumes X-XVIII; has combined a group of fictions including "Daisy Miller" with another group including "The Real Thing" in Volume XVIII; has pointed in the prefaces to classifications he might have employed; and has retained the publication order of The Wings of the Dove and The Ambassadors. [TRUNCATED]
Thesis (Ph.D)--Boston University