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October 2012

The James cult

by Joseph Epstein

On the work of Henry James, and his loyal following.

I am a member of a cult. Jamesians we call ourselves, less frequently Jacobites, and we are dedicated to the propagation and sanctification of the works of Henry James (1843–1916), a writer who is, to put it gently, not everybody’s notion of a rollicking good time. Many are the criticisms against James, none of them entirely invalid. Some claim that in his fiction he chewed much more than he bit off; others argue that a great deal of what is at the heart of meritorious fiction—the struggle for survival, the drama of ambition, physical love—is absent from his. Those of us in the cult allow all this, though we view it as quite beside the point. Our condition is put best by James himself in “The Next Time,” a story about an author named Ray Limbert who struggled to produce bestsellers but, unable to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear, could only create masterpieces. In that story, James wrote:

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Joseph Epstein is the author of Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 October 2012, on page 12

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

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