From the Desk of Henry James: March 20, 1883

Since 2006, the University of Nebraska Press has worked to publish The Complete Letters of Henry James, an acclaimed series that fills a crucial gap in modern literary studies by presenting in a scholarly edition the complete letters of one of the great novelists and letter writers of the English language. Comprising more than ten thousand letters reflecting on a remarkably wide range of topics—from James’s own life and literary projects to broader questions on art, literature, and criticism—these editions are an indispensable resource for students of James and of American and English literature, culture, and criticism.

Were Mr. James around today, we think he would be delighted to contribute to the UNP blog. Today we’re sharing one of his many letters, written on March 20, 1883.

From the Desk of Henry James

The following is an excerpt from The Complete Letters of Henry James (1883-1884) Vol. 1 by Henry James, edited by Michael Anesko, Greg W. Zacharias, and associate editor Katie Sommer (Nebraska, 2018).

William Dean Howells
20 March [1883]
ALS Houghton
bMS Am 1784 (253)- 048

131 Mount Vernon St
Boston. March 20th
—-
My dear Howells.

Your letter from Siena came to me yesterday, & you see I am not lazy about answering you. It was a real satisfaction to me to hear from you, as in this land of unscrupulous rumours & fictions all sorts of queer accounts of your movements & intentions had been wafted to me. I was sure you entered into our recent sorrow. There is nothing to say about such things save that they are. My return was painful & wretched, & my winter has not been delightful. However, I am “taking out” now what my might have been scattered over years, & it is probable that when I return to Europe (not before some hence) months) it will be for a—to put it mildly—longish stay. But even that depends on my sister, who is alone now but for me, & whose health, as you know, is none of the best. She is mending, or tending to mend, I think, but I shall not leave her till I see her well on her feet. We live here together in the little house which my Father took when he left Cambridge (a place that seems to me now “unspeakable”,) & which my sister will probably occupy for the next couple of years. I have spent quiet weeks (including a journey to Wisconsin with the mercury at zero 30 below zero) but I haven’t done much work. I have indeed done none whatever in the way of fiction—except offer a novel to the Century, which (though I left the terms to them) they refused. I should add that this refusal has since been somewhat modified. But in the meantime I have virtually (though not yet formally) engaged to give my next thing to Osgood to dispose of as he lists, so that if they take it they dispose will have do so on his terms. I insert this fragment of “shop” to divert you—as you probably don’t hear much shop in Central Italy.

I envy you Central Italy, I envy you even the tramontana of Siena. I envy you the most delicious occupation in life—going round among the minor Italy Italian towns to invent phrases about them. I shall devour every word you read & write about them. I wish you had told me more about Florence & what you had seen & done there—& about the society through which you “crazily race”. Remember that I am surrounded by the social desolation of Boston—where the one feature is Mrs. Jack Gardner’s flirtation with Frank Crawford, the American novelist of the future. We, like T. & D. are already of the past. Have you read Mr. Isaacs?—& do you see a future in it? The brawny Crawford appears to act his novels as well as write them, though he has produced a serial for the much=desiring Aldrich? Have you seen the amiable article about you in the 2 Mondes, where the good Mme Bentzen describes you & me as the disciples (the Émules is the word she uses) of the good T. B.? For the rest, articles about you & me are as thick as blackberries—we are daily immolated on the altar of Thackeray & Dickens. I enclose you the last (the Tribune,) which is not an immolation, however; on the contrary. Thank you for your very kind remarks on the Siege of London, which please me the more as it appears, publicly, to have fallen rather flat. I reward you by reading you in the Century with a poignant curiosity & perpetual relish. When do you go to London? Whenever it is, I shall, I much fear, not be there. But we must arrange not to cross each other. I hope, indeed, you are deciding to stay another year. I am sorry to hear that Winnie droops & give her my better hopes. The best to your wife. Ever yours  H. James jr

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