Henry James: Autobiography

Henry James: Autobiography

Henry James: Autobiography

Henry James: Autobiography

Excerpt

Henry James's autobiographic writings are here reprinted for the first time since their original publication. Concerned as they are with the recovery of his past and that of his remarkable family, they surely belong among his most vivid and genial performances. They nevertheless had their genesis in an experience of loss and sorrow.

"I sit heavily stricken and in darkness," he wrote to a friend in the summer of 1910, when he was sixty-seven. William James was dead; and William James, as he told his correspondent, had been his "ideal Elder Brother." In the course of a recent visit to Europe with his wife, William James had been taken suddenly ill. Accompanied by Henry James, long resident in England, the couple had hastened back to their summer house in the New Hampshire mountains, and there the brilliant philosopher and notable man had died. "His extinction changes the face of life for me," Henry added in the same letter. It also started him on the writing of his autobiography.

Like other of his major books, the autobiography began as a small work on a limited subject and then expanded into a lengthy work on a rather different and much more intricate subject. At Mrs. William James's suggestion, he first determined to publish a selection from his brother's early letters together with a brief memoir of him. What he finally produced was an extended account of his own early development--an account in which William James figures brightly, if intermittently, as elder brother but scarcely at all in his objective character. The result was a first-rate book, but it was not the book James had planned nor the book his brother's family had . . .

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