Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 4, 2010

“Picking and Choosing” and Henry James

“. . . that James is all that has been

said of him but is not profound” (ll. 9-10 in The Dial 68 [April 1, 1920] 420)

Here is one expression of this idea that Moore may have seen, relevant section in bold type:

“The early edition of the collection of essays on “French Poets and Novelists,” by Mr. Henry

Henry James by John LaFarge, N.d.

James, has been out of print for some time, and the Macmillans have now prepared a new and cheaper one. It is exceedingly fortunate that they have done so, for these essays form one of the most notable contributions thus far made to literary criticism in this country, and should be easily accessible to students and the general reader. It must be said of them at once that they are not profound. They are nearly everything else that literary criticism should be. They show in a high degree delicacy of touch and sympathetic appreciation of the works dealt with. They have about them a subtle quality which gives a keen delight to their perusal. The two essays on Balzac, and those on Gautier and Tourguenieff, are perhaps the most valuable. With these latter writers, Mr. James himself has certain affinities, and this enables him to treat of them with peculiar sympathy. At the same time, the limitations of his own nature are seen in this treatment. Those excellences in the work of Tourguenieff, for example, which are noticed by Mr. James, do not constitute its real claim to greatness, but they are what appeal the most strongly to his imagination, and he gives them an undue prominence, so that the essay, while most delightful reading, leaves one with a sense of its insufficiency. What is here said applies also in a certain degree to his treatment of George Sand and others. As far as his appreciation goes, it leaves nothing to be desired; but still there is much which it does not embrace. One is hardly made to realize the genius of Gautier or of Baudelaire, of George Sand or of Tourguenieff, by a perusal of these pages; but to make up for what he thus feels to be wanting, he gets a good many side lights thrown upon them and their work.”

The review refers to James’s French Poets and Novelists (London: Macmillan, 1884).

–in “Briefs on New Books,” The Dial, 5 (May 1884) 16.

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