[posted on the jamesf-l mailing list, Thursday 2004-12-16 11:14:56 GMT]

For an academic monograph to appear only some six weeks late on its originally advertised publication date is, in my experience, quite rare these days, so congratulations ought to be in order to Palgrave Macmillan on the arrival in mid-December of my pre-ordered copy of this chronology. However, before you open the champagne and warm up another batch of mince pies, I should warn you that I have discovered a simple and sadly dispiriting reason for the work’s arrival so promptly: it seems to have dropped through a time-warp from some twenty years ago.

To begin with, some facts. The octavo volume comprises a 140-page chronology of the life of Henry James, including key dates of some of his immediate ancestors; a brief who’s who of important people in his life outside of his family (11 pages); and a chronology of his publications and posthumous publications of his work (58 pages). It is one of a series of author chronologies from the publisher, which already includes volumes for Stevenson, Wells, Shaw and Wilde, among others, and, from the same author as this James title, for Thackeray. (I haven’t seen any of the other volumes, so I can only take this one as presented.)

So far, so appetizing. It is when one starts to delve into the three sections that the doubts and caveats begin to crowd in. It is obvious from the content and layout of the entries, as well as from the acknowledgements and the list of abbreviations, that the main sources for the chronology are the five volumes of Edel’s biography (1953–1972), the four of Edel’s selection of the letters (published 1974–1984) and Lewis’s book on the James family. Similarly the bibliography relies heavily on Edel and Laurence’s Soho bibliography and has no entries later than 1984 (Edel’s letters again), despite the mini-industry over the last twenty years in publishing volumes of James’s letters (to, for example, his publisher Macmillan, Wharton, various women and various young men – to say nothing of Horne’s life in letters). As Harden, Emeritus Professor of English at Simon Fraser University, was a pupil of Edel’s this is perhaps not surprising, but the fact that this book could well have been published twenty years ago (and wasn’t) or could have been updated (and wasn’t) is.

I might have been able to forgive the by now somewhat limited range of sources, if the resulting text provided more of the features to which I was looking forward in a scholarly chronology priced at £89. At the very least I would like a continuous ‘situation report’: a column in which one could easily determine where in the world James was located on any date, subject of course to the availability of the information. Instead, changes of residence, in permanent or temporary accommodation, are only noted (in a dated paragraph) when they occur, and seemingly only when referenced in one of the sources. Even the frequent quotations from letters (references to the Edel 4-volume edition given for each), although noting the correspondent, only occasionally reveal the location of the writer at the time. However, this is not the most disappointing absence from the production.

Although the blurb on the back cover claims that the book ‘…offers an intense articulation of Henry James’s biographical experiences, which are presented amid the detailed unfolding of his imaginative writing, and set in the larger context of historical developments that impinged upon his life’, the ‘historical developments’ are few and far between and the ‘unfolding of [James’s] imaginative writing’ is limited, as far as I can see, to the publication dates of his writing (both fiction and non-fiction), even where Edel’s biography provides additional information. To take a trivial example: I am currently [December 2004] working on the 1885 text of Poor Richard for my website. This tale first appeared in the Atlantic monthly in June-August 1867, but we know from Edel that it was written in 1866: in Henry James: the untried years 1843–1870 (Hart-Davis, 1953) the bald statement (after a discussion of James’s summer in North Conway in August 1865 vying with Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Chipman Gray for the attentions of Minny Temple) that James ‘wrote [Poor Richard] during the next year’ (page 237) is followed up later by the assertion that ‘Howells remembered that the first Jamesian tale to reach his desk was Poor Richard late in 1866’ (page 275). But of this there is no glimpse in Harden’s 1866 entries. And if we turn to his August 1865 entry (note the singular) only the Temple sisters are mentioned specifically among the ‘circle of friends’. It might have taken me longer to follow up the entries in the index of Edel’s biography than to turn to the two proximate dates in the chronology, but I got far more of the ‘detailed unfolding of [James’s] imaginative writing’ out of the former than I could possibly do from the new chronology.

It may seem harsh to go on to criticize the almost complete lack of day-to-day information about James’s life here, since much of the source material for that sort of detailed log no longer exists, but the fact that Harden has ignored the 1987 edition of James’s Notebooks (despite the editorial role in it of Edel) is a severe handicap to the later years of his work. Harden references the 1947, Matthiessen and Murdock, edition but those familiar with both publications of the Notebooks will know that only Edel and Powers include the contents of the surviving pocket engagement diaries, covering 1909–1915. The chronology completely ignores these and from 1909 merely continues its established pattern of noting publications, quoting short extracts from letters and adding occasional activity reports.

To add insult to injury, the publication chronology largely repeats entries which have appeared in the life chronology. There are also signs of slapdash editing: the first half-title states ‘Chronology 1843–1916’ but, as already mentioned, it actually begins with some of Henry James’s forebears, so the first page of entries covers 1771–1811. I would have liked James’s age (aet.!) as well as the year in the page headings: perhaps we should just be grateful for having the year there.

All this is simply not good enough for 2005. Among Harden’s dedicatees are ‘my predecessors in Jamesian bibliographical and biographical scholarship’ – it certainly can’t be dedicated to future scholarship: it ought by now to be a £14.99 paperback reprint for the student market from a 1985 original. Finally, I notice that the title-page verso includes the statement ‘this book is printed on paper suitable for recycling’ – ’nuff said.

(full bibliographic details of Harden’s book can be found in my general bibliography)