Cover image for Dear munificent friends : Henry James's letters to four women
Dear munificent friends : Henry James's letters to four women
James, Henry, 1843-1916.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 288 pages : portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


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PS2123 .A4 1999A Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Henry James was not only a prolific novelist but also a prolific letter writer. This edition of 150 previously unpublished letters to four of his female contemporaries reveals James to be a warm, witty, and astute commentator on a world now lost. The James revealed in these engaging letters is a vital, clever, and lively man with an intense interest in affairs of his day. The letters present a delightful picture of Victorian-Edwardian culture, including health cures (Fletcherizing and going to health spas), literary scandals (he feared writer Edith Wharton would be destroyed by her mad husband Teddy), domestic affairs (the marriage market, child rearing, antiquing, decorating, and gardening), and historical events (the Civil War, Queen Victoria's funeral, England's great Coal Strike, the Dreyfus case, and World War I).
Susan Gunter has selected and annotated correspondence between James and four women in his social milieu: Alice Howe Gibbens James, wife of William James; Mary Cadwalader Jones, wife of Frederic Rhinelander Jones (New York socialite and Edith Wharton's brother); Mary Frances Prothero, wife of Cambridge academic Sir George Prothero; and Lady Louisa Wolseley, wife of Viscount Garnet Wolseley, commander-in-chief of the British Forces.
Of the 10,000 extant letters by James, over two-thirds of them have never been published. The selection presented here is designed to reveal the writer's human side, his humorous and warm views of Anglo-American life over a fifty-year span, as well as his intimate participation in nineteenth-century women's daily lives. Editor Susan Gunter has provided an introduction that offers a helpful historical overview of nineteenth-century women's roles, a biographical register of people mentioned in the letters, a chronology, and brief biographies of the four women correspondents.
Readers interested in gender studies, biography, intellectual and cultural history, and literary history and those who enjoyed the recent film versions of James's novels Wings of the Dove, The Portrait of a Lady , and Washington Square will find this book fascinating.

Author Notes

Henry James, American novelist and literary critic, was born in 1843 in New York City. Psychologist-philosopher William James was his brother. By the age of 18, he had lived in France, England, Switzerland, Germany, and New England. In 1876, he moved to London, having decided to live abroad permanently.

James was a prolific writer; his writings include 22 novels, 113 tales, 15 plays, approximately 10 books of criticism, and 7 travel books. His best-known works include Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, and The American Scene. His works of fiction are elegant and articulate looks at Victorian society; while primarily set in genteel society, James subtlely explores class issues, sexual repression, and psychological distress.

Henry James died in 1916 in London. The James Memorial Stone in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, commemorates him.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Of the 10,000 letters James wrote during his lifetime, relatively few of those addressed to women have been publishedÄalthough at least half of his best friends were women. Gunter (English, Westminster Coll.) has collected, for the first time, a select 150 of the letters he wrote to four women: his sister-in-law Alice; Edith Wharton's sister-in-law Mary Cadwalader Jones; his neighbor Mary Frances Prothero; and Lady Louisa Wolseley, the ambitious wife of the British commander-in-chief. These long and elegantly crafted epistles show how seriously he took the art of letter writingÄin them James passes along neighborhood gossip, recounts his latest travels, and criticizes Wharton's new automobile, among other things. The letters also provide a glimpse into the early Edwardian world of privilege, leisure, taste, and grace. This collection (to be followed by a volume titled Dearly Beloved Friends: Henry James's Letters to Young Men) offers us a witty and loving curmudgeon with an enormous respect for women. Recommended for all libraries with a substantial Henry James collection.ÄCharles Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This special collection of Henry James's letters, covering the years from 1878 to 1913, will be fascinating to both specialists and nonspecialist aficionados of "the Master." The volume includes letters to Alice Howe James, wife of his brother William; Mary Cadwalader Jones, wife of Edith Wharton's brother; Mary Frances Prothero, wife of a Cambridge academic; and Lady Louisa Wolseley, wife of the commander-in-chief of the British forces. Enhanced by an extensive biographical register, a chronology and time lines, and the editor's introduction (covering James's background, his relationships with these women, and women's concerns and special interests during the period spanned by these letters), this collection is a valuable scholarly resource and "a good read" as well. One gains valuable incidental information not only about James himself and a number of his books, but about his eminent brother William (and his family), his brilliant sister Alice, novelist Edith Wharton and her troublesome husband Teddy, and other important contemporaries. Gunter (Westminster College) sees James as a chameleon, and these letters bear out her assessment that he "could adapt to a wide variety of circumstances," becoming "all things to these women: father, brother, bosom friend, and household familiar." Highly recommended for collections supporting the study of James and his contemporaries. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. S. I. Bellman; emeritus, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona