The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, edited by Jonathan Freedman; pp. xix + 256. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, [pound]37.50, [pound]13.95 paper, $54.95, $17.95 paper.
Henry James and the Culture of Publicity, by Richard Salmon; pp. viii + 233. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997, [pound]37.50, $54.95.
Given the occasionally prurient state of James criticism at the present time, it almost comes as a relief that The Cambridge Companion to Henry James isn't a tattling biography of Arthur Christopher Benson, or one of the Master's other homosexual friends who were affiliated with that venerable seat of the higher learning. The torrid breath of revelation does reach one in a few of the essays collected by Jonathan Freedman, but on the whole their collective intent seems thoroughly predictable and conventional--at least insofar as twenty-five other Cambridge Companions to Literature have already been pushed from the press. Like many other volumes of its kind, however, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James finally seems awkwardly uncertain of its true audience and purpose.
Ostensibly "intended to provide a critical introduction to James's work" (and "designed to promote accessibility"), these essays, one might assume, are meant to serve the needs of an inquisitive undergraduate, for whom the first encounter with Henry James notoriously invites frustration if not despair (i). If so, the choice of texts represented here seems peculiarly skewed. How many undergraduate syllabi--either for literature surveys or genre courses--include The American Scene (1906)? Or The Bostonians (1886)? Or "In the Cage" (1898)? Or The Wings of the Dove (1902)? Or The Golden Bowl (1904)? Arguably more should, but practically none do. Yet for each of …