At the end of The Portrait of a Lady, we learn that Isabel Archer has returned to Rome, ostensibly to her ruthless husband, though what becomes of her is left unclear. ‘The obvious criticism’, James correctly anticipated, ‘will be that it is not finished—that I have not seen the heroine to the end of her situation—that I have left her en l’air.’ Yet he maintained, ‘The whole of anything is never told […] What I have done […] is complete in itself—and the rest may be taken up or not, later’ (p. lvii–lviii). James did take up the novel later, substantially revising it for his New York Edition (1907–1909) and finding the effort of completion a renewed struggle and fascination. To William Dean Howells, he wrote that ‘from the moment one does retouch the only consistency […] is in completeness. So I have retouched completely—but it has been a job!’ (p. 662). That job has now been bravely and fastidiously taken up by the editors of The Complete Fiction of Henry James, a project which will run to 34 volumes in its entirety. The task is rendered both necessary and considerably more taxing by the multiple and ‘questionable forms’ (p. xv) in which James’s works—accessibly but variously digitized—exist and circulate: serial and book, British and American, first published and extensively revised. The editors have had to grapple with these temporally staggered texts, rendered porous by different mechanisms and agencies and ‘competing intentions’ (p. 661). Beyond James’s deliberate alterations, variants are attributable to everything from physical hazard (deteriorating stereotype plates causing misprints by harassed compositors) to marketing ploys [the 14-volume Collective Edition brought out by Macmillan in 1883, for instance, which involved completely resetting the volumes’ type according to James’s plea to make them ‘really pretty’ (p. 660)]. In the case of Portrait, the relative authority of plural texts is complicated further by a chronological disparity. To ‘escape the bad economy of lavishing a valuable fiction upon a single public’ (p. lix), James arranged for the novel to be serialized concurrently in British and American magazines; it appeared in ‘Macmillan’s’ magazine from October 1880 to November of the following year, and ran a month behind this time frame in the ‘Atlantic’, so as to guarantee British copyright. First book editions of the novel were then published in both countries in 1881. However, as Michael Anesko relates, James’s printers ‘set type first for what would be the second British edition, published in one volume in June 1882’ (p. lxiii). The Macmillan triple-decker edition that appeared on 8 November 1881 (in the more lucrative format then favoured by the circulating libraries) was accordingly printed from the expanded and redistributed type of the one-volume text. ‘In actuality […] this “first” edition was the third book text and arguably the least reliable; given the tight nature of Macmillan’s production schedule, there was no time for James to see additional proofs’ (p. lxxix). For these sound reasons, the ‘Complete Fiction of Henry James (CFHJ)’ has adapted its general textual policy in relation to The Portrait of a Lady, finding that ‘the idiosyncrasies of publishing history dictate that the choice of copy text be the second published edition, rather than the first’ (p. lxxviii). The popularity of Portrait [Anesko points out that it ‘has never been out of print’ (p. lxxiii)] adds to the usefulness and interest of encountering it in its original type. Part of its enduring good fortune derives from its relative accessibility, appearing as it does before the obscurely magnificent ‘late’ works but recognizably still as the author’s first really established novel [‘the one that will cover you with fame’, boasted James to his mother as early as 1878 (p. xlv)]. Modern editors have generally used the New York Edition text of 1908. As a result, the novel, which begins with afternoon tea on the lawn of a stately home, is rarely encountered without its much later Preface, James’s famous statement about the ‘house of fiction’ and its ‘million windows’. The effect of removing such framing (the house of fiction is relegated instead to an appendix) is to restore to both the novel and its Preface a certain freshness and autonomy. Meanwhile, even seasoned Jamesians might be jolted by the absence of moments made familiar by the New York Edition (NYE) text, such as that during Isabel’s last encounter with her cousin, Ralph Touchett. On his deathbed, consoling her on her awful marriage, Ralph begs her to remember ‘that if you’ve been hated you’ve also been loved’, an endearment which stops ‘there’ in the 1882 copy text, but is memorably extended in the 1908 edition (‘“… Ah but, Isabel—adored!” he just audibly and lingeringly breathed’). Firstness and freshness matter particularly in a novel which deals so substantially with a loss of innocence. In his Introduction, Anesko makes a persuasive case for the desirability of ‘emotional spontaneity’ (p. lxix) in relation to the novel’s heroine as well as to its copy text, pointing out that if the New York edition is more densely psychological [‘the root word consciousness appears 24 times in the 1882 copy text; 33 times in the NYE’ (p. lxix)] it is also, conversely, more physically knowing. The 1908 text sees Isabel’s suitors become more sexually strident, and the text itself replete with ‘burnished masculinity’ (p. lxx). Records of these changes, however, constitute only part of the strenuous historiographical detail supplied by this edition, which goes beyond its forebears in providing ‘all’ substantive textual variants in versions of the novel published up to, including, and after the Cambridge copy text. Attesting to the remarkable difference this makes, Anesko observes that the 600 variants introduced by the ‘Atlantic’ serial text included ‘forty-three exclamation points’, an infiltration which, if allowed to stand, ‘would have heightened a kind of typographical melodrama in the mood of the novel’ (p. 636). Another striking example of ‘a glaring error’ missed by Macmillans at both the serial and book stages occurs in Chapter 40 where Isabel recalls seeing her husband and Madame Merle in conversation. The latter is standing while her husband remains seated—an arrangement which hints at prior intimacy. Yet in both the magazine and copy text, ‘Isabel sees Madame Merle as she “sat there in her bonnet”’ (p. 636). The ‘CFHJ’ edition of Portrait manages to be comprehensive in both senses of the word: as a reference work of admirable fullness that is also eminently usable. The General Editors’ Preface emphasizes that ‘[f]ullness and helpfulness of annotation is one of the main aims’ (p. xvi) of the Edition, and this is everywhere apparent in the impressive Notes section, which picks up not only direct references and factual contexts but possible echoes and allusions. Anesko’s thorough and far-reaching Introduction summarizes the novel’s significant antecedents, British and American, as well as the text’s busy compositional history and sociable tissue of literary and biographical influences. His account is notably enlivened by unpublished material (drawing on the Houghton, Mifflin archives to establish the sales figure for James’s previous novels relative to Portrait, for instance), as well as by letters only recently made available by the ongoing Complete Letters project. For James scholars, this edition will afford unprecedented convenience and clarity. The edition also benefits from Philip Horne’s remarkably detailed and volume-specific chronology. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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