Friday, November 16, 2007

the mature master

I have been a bit distracted by the imminent publication of my book, Henry James: The Mature Master, (which is on sale now, but the formal "publication date" is November 20). A reporter asked me, in the course of an interview, what I thought was Henry James's relevance to a reader today. I am afraid I was not prepared for the obvious question. Why read the biography of a rather conservative gentleman who died almost a century ago and who was loyal to values that today seem quaint? I mumbled something about the disastrous twentieth century and the possible interest of the civilization that preceded it and was largely destroyed. I suppose I should have added that James was a conscience Whig, at least in principle (the party having wrecked itself as a political force by trying to avoid the issue of slavery). That is to say, he wanted to carry European language and culture, the art of living, into the democratic American age that he thought morally superior. This seems to me an admirable purpose, and I would like to do my bit, my iota of assistance. I see that I am no better at expressing the thought here than I was in the interview; but let it stand.

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