In "The Art of Criticism," William Veeder and Susan M. Griffin have brought together for the first time the best of the Master's critical work: the most important of his Prefaces, which R. P. Blackmur has called "the most sustained and I think the most eloquent and original piece of literary criticism in existence"; his studies of Hawthorne, George Eliot, Balzac, Zola, de Maupassant, Turgenev, Sante-Beuve, and Arnold; and his essays on the function of criticism and the future of the novel.
The editors have provided what James himself emphasized in his literary criticism--the text's context. Each selection is framed by an editorial commentary and notes which give its biographical, bibliographical, and critical background and cite other references in James' work to the topic discussed. This framework, along with the editors' introduction, gives the reader a sense of the place of these pieces in the history of criticism.
An intelligently organized, painstakingly annotated gleaning of Henry James' critical writings, brought together in this form for the first time. (Leon Edel collected all of the critical writings into two volumes in 1984,) Included here are James' studies of Hawthorne, George Eliot, Balzac, Zola, de Maupassant, Turgenev, Sainte-Beuve and Matthew Arnold; a selection of nine Prefaces from the New York edition of James' works, plus his essays on the function of criticism and the future of the novel. Together, they offer a well-chosen overview of the master's 50-year-long career as probably the finest, most perceptive literary critic of the 19th century. James' critical models were Sainte-Beuve and Arnold and "disinterestedness" was the ideal he sought in his literary reviews, biographies and appreciations. The critic, he felt, must be somehow "in-between,' part-philosopher/part-historian; part-scholar/part-man of the world; part-masculine/part-feminine. "Axe-grinding" was not one of the critic's functions. Instead, it was "to compare a work with itself, with its own concrete standard of truth," as he wrote in 1865. This quality is perhaps best shown in his essay on Zola. Here James manages to treat objectively a writer whose personal integrity he admired enormously but whose vision of the world repelled him. It's a tour de force that many modern critics would do well to emulate. The editors divide their selections into the four periods of James' creative life: as practical critic, as theoretician, as self-critic in "The Prefaces" and as retrospective analyst. Except for the book-length Hawthorne, all the essays are reproduced in their entirety. Commentaries and notes place each of the selections in context of James' oeuvre, citing passages from works not included in the present edition. A superb bibliography and an equally thorough index round out the anthology. For anyone interested in the art of criticism in general, and James' contribution to the form in particular, this will serve as an indispensable reference work for years to come. (Kirkus Reviews)