Some ferocious feedback from Henry James

An article in a recent edition of the London Review of Books quoted some feedback received by a young author from Henry James:

I am myself such a fanatic on the subject of form, style, the evidence of intention and meditation, of chiselling and hammering out in literary things that I am afraid I am rather a cold-blooded judge, rather likely to be offensive to a young story-teller on the question of quality. I’m not so sure that yours strikes me as quite so ferociously literary as my ideal.

I love the use of the word “ferociously” in the second sentence after all the circumlocution and, seemingly, the gentlemanly reticence of the first. How very Jamesian.

As for the young author in question, I guess it serves him right for asking feedback from Henry James in the first place.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I adore this well known quotation from the consummate master of circumlocution:

    “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Overheard by his nephew, Billy James, in 1902.


    • Yes, I seem to remember hearing that quote before, and it’s a good one. Because James’ writing is so prodigiously difficult, we tend, perhaps, to think if him as a bit removed, a bit remote, lacking in warmth. But the more I read by James, the stronger my impression becomes that his novels and stories really are very deeply felt, and that he cared very deeply about human kindness.


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