Henry James' Love Life

Henry James' Love Life

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Dec. 21 1996 3:30 AM

Henry James' Love Life

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       Sheldon M. Novick seems to assume that my article "Oh Henry!" was an attack on his entire book, Henry James, The Young Master. Let me be very clear: At my editor's request, I addressed two episodes only--Novick's assumption that Henry James had sexual experiences with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and an alleged love affair with a Russian aristocrat. My quotations from Novick's book demonstrate his failure to provide anything but suppositions and fantasies. His letter further weakens his case.
       Novick takes refuge in a series of uncivil remarks, ad hominem. These show a desire to turn me into an adversary, as if he were in a court of law. This is not a game I wish to play. Let me simply address his most outrageous statement. (His other outrageous statements have been amply distributed by Random House, both on the book's jacket and in the considerable hype which was sent with the review copies. I have no desire to carry on that debate.) It is simply not true that I "controlled" for 40 years "access" to the James papers. These papers are the property of Harvard University and were controlled by Harvard from the first. The only restrictions were, of course, copyrights, and a particular stipulation by the executor of Henry James' estate that the materials be kept from inexperienced undergraduate and graduate students. They were available to post-doctoral and professional writers. Even this stipulation has in recent years been rescinded. More than 100 books and hundreds of articles about James were written during the years I worked on my books.

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Leon Edel

(Editor's Note: Leon Edel, author of "Oh Henry!" in SLATE, is unable to continue this dialogue. Fred Kaplan is standing in for him.)