Henry James' Love Life

Henry James' Love Life

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Jan. 30 1997 3:30 AM

Henry James' Love Life

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Dear Sheldon:

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       So you finally admit that you're guessing. And you further admit that all the evidence you have you've already presented. I believe that you and I can't advance this argument any further. What you continue to do is to refer me back to "evidence" that didn't seem convincing to begin with. Simply repeating the claim doesn't strengthen your argument. Your series of questions are not only rhetorical, they're preposterous. You argue in your book that James was gay from bits and pieces of fragmentary, indirect, or negative evidence. But you ask me to provide positive evidence that James wasn't actively gay--some statement on his part to the effect that he was celibate. Really!
       The weaknesses in your evidence and argument have been well set out by numbers of reviewers, particularly at length and soberly by Millicent Bell. Your answer to her review in the Times Literary Supplement is similar to your answers to me. Repetition--"the facts are so well known" (from your recent message to me), etc.--but no response to specific objections or questions about your evidence. We've both scored a few rhetorical points in the course of this correspondence, part of the game of self and other amusing interaction. Some of yours have seemed to me to be additional "factual" inventions. The latest is your claim that I have attended conferences at which scholars claimed that James was actively gay, and that I have actually spoken to such scholars "in [your] presence." I never heard such a claim by any scholar at any conference, whether I was in your presence or not. And you won't cite who these scholars are, because of "the violence of the arguments going on in academia." What violence? Also, frankly, I've never heard of a scholar who wouldn't like to be cited. Again, you make a claim and you find a reason not to provide evidence in its support. I could go on to list additional statements in your recent message, which seem to me as spurious as the one I've just addressed. But it would, I fear, just prompt you to add to the list and to repeat (at this point, for no third person's benefit, and not for mine either) your guess about James' sexual life. I think your guess is interesting and worth making as a guess--that is, as a "maybe." But not at the price of confusing "guess" with "fact." And not at the price of such intellectual contortions.

Best,
Fred Kaplan

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