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Number 16
September 11, 2014

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The "Reversed Chapters" in The Ambassadors

by Richard D. Hathaway
Professor Emeritus of English, State University of New York at New Paltz

The problem of the famous "reversed" chapters in Henry James's The Ambassadors, (1) chapters 28 and 29, continues with us. We thought it had been settled in 1950 by Robert E. Young's article in American Literature, demonstrating conclusively to everyone's satisfaction that chapter 28, the "afternoon" chapter, was out of chronological sequence and therefore should follow chapter 29, the "evening" chapter. (2) But in 1992 the noted scholar Jerome McGann reopened the matter, again in American Literature, suggesting that Young was wrong and that the 1909 New York Edition had it right after all. (3) McGann presents the argument in a Socratic dialogue between "James," who assumes at the outset that the Young thesis is correct, and "Henry," who tangles "James" up initially in wordplay reminiscent of the Abbott-and-Costello "Who's on first?" routine. The discussion quickly becomes a serious analysis of the issue. Though "Henry" concedes at one point that the Young reading is "a possible reading," even "a persuasive reading" [104], his qualification is swallowed up by the main thrust of his argument that "Young was wrong" [98]. That argument carries the day and dispels the initial skepticism of "James," who is after all only a straight-man to "Henry." Still, the qualification, though faint, hovers in the air, reminding us that we are dealing with relative knowledge, inferences about what happened in the production of the differing texts, not an absolute either-or situation.

McGann's essay was reprinted in David McWhirter's 1995 book on the New York Edition. (4) In 2009 it gained some carefully qualified support from Adrian Dover's discussion of it in his influential and carefully researched the Ladder: a Henry James website. (5)

The chapter about Strether's "late that evening" visit with Chad had been omitted from the serialized version of the novel. When it was inserted in the book editions, the English edition (Methuen, 1903) put it before the "restless afternoon" chapter; the American editions--Harper and Brothers (1903) and the New York Edition (1909)--put it after. (6) Which is correct? Young, who was not aware of the English edition, which was scarce in America, (7) demonstrated that the American editions had it wrong. Leon Edel, calling attention for the first time ever to the English edition's different placement of the two chapters, supported Young's conclusion. (8)

Discussion of this matter, in which the chapter numbers change depending on which edition we are looking at, can be confusing. Therefore I designate the chapters by key words in their opening sentences: "evening" and "afternoon."

A crux of the issue is the first paragraph of the "afternoon" chapter. Its first sentence [290; II 209] clearly refers to the afternoon immediately following Strether's confrontation with Sarah Pocock in chapter 27: "One of the features of the restless afternoon passed by him after Mrs. Pocock's visit was an hour spent, shortly before dinner, with Maria Gostrey, whom of late, in spite of so sustained a call on his attention from other quarters, he had by no means neglected." Did this natural transition from chapter 27 mislead the American book editors into continuing to place the entire chapter right after chapter 27? Brian Birch argues that this is so, pointing out that the very next sentence shifts the time forward to the next day, which we will call day two: "And that he was still not neglecting her [Maria] will appear from the fact that he was with her again at the same hour on the very morrow...". Birch goes on, exonerating James, "Anyone not troubling to read beyond that opening sentence would easily take there to be a mistake in James's ordering of the chapters. This makes for the conclusion that a Harper editor was to blame." (9) But Birch's assertion here would seem to be too easy in view of the fact that the initial "mistake" of the Harper 1903 editor was not corrected by James in the 1909 New York Edition. Was James, like his editors, lulled by the obvious sequence of morning, afternoon, and evening, lulled so much that while looking at punctuation and phrasing he did not, as Young puts it, notice the forest for the trees? (10) The crux of Young's argument is that the "afternoon" chapter refers a number of times to events of the previous evening, dramatized in the "evening" chapter. What is McGann's answer?

To begin with, McGann's "Henry" concedes, as he must, that Young has it right about the chronological time of the two chapters. He agrees [104] that the conversation between Strether and Maria in the "afternoon" chapter occurs, in chronological time, the day after the "evening" chapter. We can easily test this and see that it is so. The first paragraph of the "afternoon" chapter says, "He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before, and he had had that morning, as a sequel to this conversation, a second interview with Sarah" [290; II 209]. The chapter continues forward with Strether's visit to Maria on this second day, with several references back to recent events, such as his statement, "I haven't reduced Sarah, since yesterday; though I've succeeded in seeing her again..." [291; II 210]. To do this, that morning "He had caught her by not announcing himself. . . .Then he had explained to her how he had succeeded, late the night before in keeping his promise of seeing Chad. 'I told her I'd take it all'" [293; II 215]. This is just what he had promised Chad in the "evening" chapter. In the conversation with Maria other allusions to the late night with Chad follow: "...what even Chad himself asked me last night. He asked me if I don't mind the loss--well, the loss of an opulent future" [297; II 220]. Then the conversation shifts to the Newsome family's lack of imagination. Mrs. Newsome, says Strether, has "no room left; no margin, as it were, for any alteration." Seeing her as a "particularly large iceberg in a cool blue northern sea, 'It's magnificent!' he then rather oddly exclaimed." Maria replies, "'There's nothing so magnificent--for making others feel you--as to have no imagination.'" Strether goes on, "'Ah there you are! It's what I said last night to Chad. That he himself, I mean, has none.'" Maria concludes, "'Yours, you know. . .is monstrous. No one has ever had so much.' It struck him for a moment. 'That's what Chad also thinks'" [298-99; II 222-24].

These and other items conclusively prove the case that in chronological time the "afternoon" chapter follows the "evening" chapter. With the concession by McGann's "Henry" that reading the chapters in the order that he is arguing against is a "possible reading" [104], Dover concurs: the reader has the option of reading the chapters in either order.

But then "Henry," this time not followed by Dover, comes up with an ingenious argument. He says that James had a good reason for not staying with chronological order, for reversing the chapters, for constructing "a kind of textual flash-forward." The Strether-Maria conversation is "proleptic," anticipatingly referring to events that happened in the past and that will be more fully dramatized in the next chapter [105]. What is gained by this prolepsis? asks "Henry." To be brief, that holy grail of modern criticism: irony,

a dramatic and experiential irony. This emerges as we move in reading-time from Strether's conversation with Maria to his (earlier) conversation with Chad. When we follow Strether's conversation with Chad in that textual sequence, we are forcibly confronted with the deep pathos of Strether's nuanced and sympathetic imagination. The insight he reveals to and for Chad is matched by an evil reciprocal--by the blindness (is it a willful blindness?) that he reveals toward his own situation, where real opportunities for love are both available and lost.

This is true, "Henry" argues, because

In Strether's conversation with Maria Gostrey, for example, the reader is led to focus on two related emotional facts: that Maria is in love with Strether and that Strether--though Maria continually exposes her true feelings to him--fails utterly to register those feelings, much less to respond.

In the novel's plot-time this failure happens after Strether's midnight conversation with Chad, which is dominated by the subject of love and people's failed chances at a true emotional life. The reader will perceive this plot-time irony only after the events are over; it is an irony we gain by reflection, sometime after [the "evening" chapter]. [106]

When read in this order, as Strether

tries to persuade Chad to make a choice for love and life beyond the suffocating world of Woollett. . . .the future-perfect memory of the conversation with Maria Gostrey hovers over the text. Its presence generates (as it were) a reading from above, a revelation of the true extent of the disaster involved here. Both of these men are already, in their different ways, lost souls. [106-07]

The point is complicated, so I will summarize it for emphasis: In the New York Edition's order of chapters, the later event, focusing on Strether's insensitivity to the opportunity for "love and life" that Maria offers, gains ironic resonance when we see Strether in the next chapter trying to persuade Chad to opt for love and life by staying in Paris.

This argument is attractive and eloquently stated, but I am not convinced. What about the alleged prolepsis, the haze of "future-perfect memory"? It is true that James often employs prolepsis in The Ambassadors, but in each case he indicates the time-shift into the future, and the shift is usually only for a sentence or two, or perhaps a paragraph. (11) A more extended instance of prolepsis begins in the third paragraph of chapter 31, the one in which Strether discovers Chad and Marie boating on the river: "He was to reflect later on and in private that it was mainly he who had explained....He was to have at all events meanwhile the worrying thought of their perhaps secretly suspecting him of having plotted this coincidence..." [309; II 259]. The phrase "was to reflect later on" shifts us into the future, and the phrase "was to have at all events meanwhile" leaves us hovering between that future reflection and the present moment, a moment that "meanwhile" unfolds. This dual time-scheme continues for a while. The impression is of the present moment, but we are reminded of the proleptic double vision by repeated phrases: "Strether indeed was afterwards to remember ...", "Strether was to remember afterwards further...and indeed he was to remember further still," [310; II 260]. But with the words "When he reached home that night" [310: II 261], the base-time shifts forward, no longer proleptic. The shift is made explicit by the use of past tense for the base-time, past-perfect tense to refer back to the events Strether remembers: "He kept making of it that there had been simply a lie in the charming affair....It was with the lie that they had eaten and drunk and talked and laughed" [311; II 262]. The shift into and out of the prolepsis is clearly marked, with several uses of "was to" when the dual time-scheme is in effect.

What of the time-shifts in the "afternoon" chapter? They are clearly marked. James announces in the chapter's opening two sentences that we are first in day one and then in day two: "One of the features of the restless afternoon passed by him after Mrs. Pocock's visit. . . .he was with her again at the same hour on the very morrow..." Then after a brief proleptic flutter--"It continued inveterately to occur...that whenever he had taken one of his greater turns he came back to where she so faithfully awaited him"--the paragraph continues in day two as its base-time, with a flashback to day one and to the morning of day two: "He had seen Chad late the night before, and he had had that morning...a second interview with Sarah" [290; II 209]. The base-time continues in day two until the end of the chapter, with brief flashbacks to day one: "It's what I said last night to Chad" [ 298; II 223]. "I haven't reduced Sarah, since yesterday; though I've succeeded in seeing her again..." [291; II 210]. "...what had happened for him that morning. He had had ten minutes with Sarah at her hotel..." [ 293; II 215]. "What she demanded of me yesterday..." [ 295; II 217].

McGann's "Henry" thinks that the base-time, time-present, of this chapter remains in day one, frozen, suspended, by the first sentence about the restless afternoon. He thinks that the second sentence--with its "again at the same hour on the very morrow"--flashes forward only provisionally to day two, that it does not change the base-time, that the chapter-long conversation between Strether and Maria is in the future, "a proleptically embedded event in the chapter" [105], that the next chapter, the "evening" chapter, is thus a return to the base-time, time-present, day one.

But a proleptic flash-ahead requires definite sign-posting, such as the formulaic "Strether was to remember..." In the "afternoon" chapter the sign-posting is simply not there. "On the very morrow" means "on the next day." It shifts the base-time forward to day two. There is no indication that the shift is only provisional, that the base-time is still day one, that we are suspended for a whole chapter in "future-perfect memory." What perhaps confuses some readers is that after shifting the base-time to day two the paragraph introduces a flashback: "He had seen Chad Newsome...and he had had that morning...a second interview with Sarah." That it is a flashback is clearly indicated by the "had seen" and the "had had." The return at the end of the paragraph to the base-time of day two is indicated by the return to the present tense: "But they're all off..."

The effect McGann's "Henry" describes, whether we call it "irony" or not, is also there if we read the "evening" chapter first. We hear Strether and Chad's conversation, "dominated by the subject of love and people's chances at a true emotional life," with Strether's urging Chad not to give that up for a crass material advantage. We hear Strether's readiness to give up "a good deal of money" [ 287; II 239] if he loses Mrs. Newsome. Then, in the next chapter, this possible loss of both marriage and money is discussed further by Strether and Maria, even as we watch Strether turn a deaf ear to Maria's not-so-subtle hints about her availability.

Is Strether's readiness to sacrifice marriage and his own "opulent future" ironic, or is it something else? And is he oblivious to Maria's feelings, failing "utterly to register" them? These are more substantive questions than the one about chapter-order, involving as they do our whole interpretation of The Ambassadors. To McGann's "Henry," Strether's failure to "register" and "respond "to Maria's feelings makes him a "lost" soul. To me, Strether is the reverse of that. His renunciation of material advantage and rebound-love is an aspect of his general strength of character, fully blossoming in his rejection of Maria in the final chapter, when he concludes, "Not, out of the whole affair, to have got anything for myself" [344; II 326]. It is not, as "Henry" would have it, that Strether, in the "afternoon" chapter, is blind and "fails utterly to register" Maria's feelings; it is that he is not encouraging them and pretends not to notice them. When Maria's hints become insistent and she invites him to "express a wish" about her "having" him, he deftly brushes it aside by an exaggerated compliment, a non-answer, "I'll express fifty" [293; II 214]. And when she tries to exact a compliment or a declaration with "You can easily, at the worst, after all, give me up," he deflects the invitation with an irony "so obvious that it needed no care. 'I can easily at the worst, after all, even forget you.'" To this she replies, cauterizing her wound by keeping up the bantering tone, "'Call that then workable.'" [300; II 226].

That James did not intend to portray Strether's non-responsiveness to Maria as a weakness was made explicit in the "Project of Novel by Henry James" (12) that he prepared for magazine editors before actually composing the novel. Speaking of Strether's rejection of Maria in the final chapter, James says that "we don't do anything so vulgar as make him 'take up,' save for a friendship that he quite sincerely hopes may last, with poor convenient, amusing, unforgettable, impossible Gostrey." (13) James regards the idea of rebound-matrimony, a compensatory happy ending, as simply "vulgar."

But in actually writing the novel, James perhaps strayed from his earlier intention, causing many readers, like McGann's "Henry" and even including myself, to wish for the compensatory happy ending. Maria after all is not so "impossible"; she is a quite acceptable match, with what James calls "a perfect plain propriety, an expensive subdued suitability" [20; I 8]. Her propriety is not always "plain." We see her in a hotel dining room in a dress "'cut down'...in respect to shoulders and bosom, in a manner quite other than Mrs. Newsome's" and "round her throat a broad red velvet band with an antique jewel," the tables softly lit by candles with "rose-coloured shades"--eye-filling images, impressions that "complicate" Strether's "vision," and ours [42; I 50]. Nonetheless, though James has made Maria rather appealing, not to be dismissed as merely "amusing" and "impossible," it is no part of his intention in the "afternoon" chapter to portray Strether ironically as a "lost soul" or even less than admirable because of his resisting (should we say "teasingly ignoring") Maria's hints.

To return to the question of the reversed chapters, I would like to focus on the beginning of the "evening" chapter: "He went late that evening to the Boulevard Malesherbes..." [280; II 228]. Coming as it does, in the Harper and New York Editions, immediately after the conversation between Strether and Maria on the afternoon of the second day and having no specific time-designation other than "late that evening," it seems to designate the evening of the second day. But it doesn't, and that is the source of the whole problem. It becomes a grotesque, vague reference to a time unspecified, and "late that evening" wanders in space, lost in space.

If read in the chapter-order of the New York Edition, "late that evening" is really referring to the evening of day one, a whole chapter away, at the beginning of the chapter just read. But the issue is muddied by the fact that in the "afternoon" chapter the first sentence is about the "restless afternoon" of day one. The second sentence shifts the time to the afternoon of day two, staying in day two throughout the chapter except for brief references, carefully indicated, back to the evening of day one. So if, after the end of that chapter, we read "late that evening" as the transition to the new chapter, we naturally assume that we are still in day two and that we are proceeding from there, but we are not. We have shifted back to day one, without any notice this time. No wonder readers were confused, says Young. His contention is that the first paragraph of the "afternoon" chapter, coupled with the phrase "late that evening" at the start of the other one, confused James's editors and perhaps even James himself. (14)

With the "afternoon" chapter hovering future-perfectly in the air, and with "that evening" clumsily referring back over it, McGann's "Henry" could use some help in his argument. Adrian Dover obliges:

To an objection that referring [with 'late that evening'] back 'over' the immediately preceding chapter is 'clumsy', one can respond that the same thing happens in Young's order, where the opening sentence of the 'Maria' chapter refers back to Mrs Pocock's visit before the evening with Chad described in the intervening 'Chad' chapter.(15)
True, either way there is a referring back "over" the preceding chapter. But with the 1909 NYE chapter-order "late that evening" does not specify whether the day-one evening or the day-two evening is intended, thus causing the confusion. In the other case, "One of the features of the restless afternoon passed by him after Mrs. Pocock's visit was an hour spent...with Maria Gostrey..." is a precise definition: the afternoon of day one. This precision makes a further time-shift flag (by changing "was" to "had been") unnecessary in this first sentence, thus deftly avoiding an awkward tangle of tenses in the rest of the paragraph.

The McGann-"Henry" argument depends on the assumption that James does not make major errors in "proofing, correcting, and revising. . . .Everyone agrees James carried out this kind of work with meticulous attention and thoroughness. How could he have blundered the chronology as badly as Young has charged?" [99-100]. But whichever way we look at it, James has been less than perfect in his revision of our two chapters for all three of the book editions.

Let's test that statement with a look at the Young-order first. If James indeed intended the "evening" chapter to come first, he needed to revise, but did not, the opening paragraph of the "afternoon" chapter. Its fifth sentence--"He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before..."--repeats what we have just been reading about in the "evening" chapter. In the serial version, with this chapter omitted, that sentence was a necessary preparation for the several references in the "afternoon" chapter to the evening with Chad. Now, it is superfluous. Secondly, when the paragraph's first sentence takes us back "over" the "evening" chapter to the afternoon of day one, this time-travel is unnecessary, for the "restless afternoon" visit to Maria on day one is mentioned only in this first sentence, never more fully developed. In the serial version this sentence was a bridge from the previous chapter about Sarah's visit. In the Young-order of the book version, this sentence would be better omitted: we would then be taken directly forward from the evening of day one to the afternoon of day two and the conversation with Maria, and all the confusion would be avoided.

So if James really intended the "evening" chapter to come first, he was careless, just a trifle. What about the converse case? If James really intended the "evening" chapter to come after the "afternoon" chapter, he committed an uncharacteristically careless error. James wrote "He went late that evening to the Boulevard Malesherbes..." [280; II 228]. If he intended by this to take us back to a time before the conversation with Maria in the previous chapter, he should not have written "He went." Since the narration of the entire book is in simple past tense, the simple past tense cannot be used to refer to a time previous to the present moment. "He went" would be a continuation forward from the present moment. To flash back, James would have had to write "He had gone late the evening before..."

James, had he been paying better attention, would certainly have done that. He routinely uses the past-perfect tense when needed: "He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before, and he had had that morning, as a sequel to this conversation, a second interview with Sarah" [290; II 209]. Why would he write "He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before" in one chapter and fail to write "He had gone late the evening before" when it was required in the next chapter? No, I do not think James commits that kind of mistake. The only reason for writing "He went late that evening" would have been that when James first wrote those words the "evening" chapter came first and there was no "referring back over" the next chapter, the "afternoon" chapter. "Referring back over" would require him to say, "He had gone late the evening before." I conclude that the "evening" chapter properly belongs where Robert Young put it, immediately after the Sarah Pocock chapter, and that James's mistake arose from a different category of carelessness, stemming, as has often been pointed out, from the peculiar and troubled circumstances of the book-publication. The mischief occurred when James removed the "evening" chapter from the periodical version, then restored it for the book publications.

The Ambassadors was published in three different versions in 1903: the serialization in The North American Review (twelve installments running from January through December); the Harper edition in New York, published on November 6; and the Methuen edition in London, published in September. (16) I mention the Methuen edition last because James had already finished reading and returning proofs for the American edition before he had finished supplying Methuen with copy for their edition. And in the Methuen edition, wondrously, the "reversed chapters" appeared in the order that became standard after 1950.

On July 10, 1903, Methuen still did not have copy for the novel, but with remarkable dispatch they published their edition of it on September 24. To get the typesetters started, James provided Methuen the first half-year's installments from The North American Review. James had intended to give Methuen a duplicate set of proofs from Harper, but despite his repeated requests over a period of years the duplicates had not been supplied. (17)

On August 13, 1903, James wrote to his agent, James B. Pinker, (18) that he had received "but three or four days ago" proofs from Harper for the last third of the book and that he had returned them "to Albemarle Street immediately, after due correction, to be sent as fast as possible back to New York" and that from Albemarle Street the proofs would have been sent back "only yesterday." This last third of the novel, just sent back to New York, had "not yet been supplied to Methuen." (Actually it was slightly more than a third: James added that he still needed to get the serial's eighth installment of the twelve, "due to be issued by Henemann on the 15th," so that he could make "a small interpolation" and "post it off to Methuen.") James went on to tell Pinker how he would meet the emergency: he would fill the gap by sending Methuen "a duplicate Type-Copy of my M. S., which I fortunately have clung to."

As, "at the time of the reading of the Harper proof James was still seeing the last galleys of the serial...", (19) one could speculate that proofreading the last third of the novel for Harper in only a couple of days while also having in hand the distracting galleys of the serial, with its omission of the "evening" chapter, increased the chances for error about the placement of our two chapters. But Edel [455] cautions that "In the absence of accurate data such speculation is, however, fruitless."

In 1965 Brian Birch examined the origins and textual differences and challenged, as he put it, "the old and unsatisfactory view of why the English and American first editions differ" [123], which he felt Rosenbaum had merely restated the year before. He argued that the additions in certain parts of the Methuen edition were hardly improvements, rather were demonstrably inferior. Analyzing some of the lengthy passages that Leon Edel (20) had regarded as "corrections," "connective tissue" added to the Methuen edition, Birch found them prolix, "tedious" [121], unnecessary, more likely to have been deleted from the American edition than added to the Methuen one. And I ask the obvious question: Why would James, with the Methuen typesetters hard on his heels, make lengthy additions, unneeded embellishments, after August 13 to a book that came out on September 24?

Birch also pointed out [116], tellingly, that some of the passages missing from the Methuen edition should not have been missing. A few deletions in the serial version had been made purely to avoid having a few lines at the end of an installment hang over to the top of the next page. These deletions were restored in the American edition but not in the Methuen edition.

From his analysis of the additions and deletions Birch concluded [122] that we should disregard the second half, but not the first half, of the statement by Leon Edel that "...James used carbon copies of the original typescript and made corrections in these..." (21) Birch added that we should give "even less credence" to R. W. Stallman's claim that the Methuen edition had a special validity, that James "extensively revised the serial form of the novel for the First English Edition, but he saw only this edition through the press." (22) Nevertheless, Edel and Laurence agree--and I also--with Birch's main point: the Methuen edition has "less authority" than the American editions "even if these have reversed chapters." (23)

As the Harper original type-copy, the carbon copy, the Harper proofs for the last third of the serial, and the Methuen and Harper proofs for the two book versions do not survive, (24) we are balked in the effort to determine whether James made extensive revisions in the carbon copy sent to Methuen in August. (25) And regarding James's plan mentioned in his August 13 letter to get the Harper proofs back once again for Methuen, we do not know if they were received in time or even received at all, says Rosenbaum [360]. But from the fact that Methuen did not follow the Harper ordering of our two chapters, I infer that Methuen did not have the Harper proofs in time.

Although in his August 13 letter James referred to his intention to make any necessary corrections in the Methuen proofs as required, we are free to wonder just how much revision really occurred. While he was juggling the final stages of this third version of The Ambassadors, he was "making some sort of terms with invasions, interruptions, complications, that I seem powerless to prevent." He was "putting up and 'doing for' visitor after visitor, and running a crowded and quite unlucrative little hotel." (26) He was also "gouging away...with great constancy" to fulfill his promise to Methuen of copy for The Golden Bowl by the end of November. (27) I stand back in awe at James's ability to multitask and write a masterpiece like The Golden Bowl under these conditions, but I am not at all surprised that he let the famous mistake concerning chapter-order get by him, as he certainly did in proofreading one or the other of the two book versions.

I recount this complicated and troubled history because it casts further light on the question we started with: the correct order for the "evening" and "afternoon" chapters. McGann's "Henry" assumes [101] that because Birch shows the Methuen text to be inferior that the Methuen ordering of these chapters is also inferior. I make the opposite conclusion. Here is why. The disputed chapters occur in the last third of the novel, for which Methuen had only the carbon copy. I infer that Methuen therefore set the type for those chapters in the order in which James originally intended them to be read, before he made the deletion of the "evening" chapter and other revisions for the serialization. On the other hand, The North American Review was connected with Harper, and Harper had at its disposal the typesetting from the serialization. The Harper book edition "was printed from the type-setting for [The North American Review]", (28) with a Harper editor having to make a number of insertions. It was easy to put the "evening" chapter in the wrong place and for James not to notice, for all the reasons that I have been presenting. We know now, by inescapable inference, that the carbon copy must have had the chapters in chronological order. And if James had made the extraordinary decision to put the chapters in reverse chronological order and had instructed Harper to change it, then why did he not notice the error and correct it as he read proof for Methuen? Any way one looks at it, whichever side one is on in this debate, one must conclude that James nodded somewhere along the way.

He conceded as much. He wrote to Mrs. Humphry Ward, December 16, 1903, "...the book is, intrinsically, I daresay, the best I have written in spite of a fearful though much patched over fault or weakness in it (which, however, I seem to see no one has noticed & which nothing will induce me now ever to reveal not at least till some one does spot it)." (29)

McGann's "Henry" feels [102] that this letter to Mrs. Ward clinches his case, that only an error as gross as the reversed chapters could be referred to, and that, since publication of the American edition did not occur until November 6, the "fearful" error must have been in the earlier Methuen edition. But I reply that the "patched over fault" could hardly have been the one we have been discussing, as the "afternoon" and "evening" chapters are singularly lacking in the patching necessary to avoid the confusion we have been examining. It is pure supposition that the "fearful" error was in the chapter-order. The error could be something that was common to all editions. And in any event James did not say on December 16 that the error was in the edition Mrs. Ward was reading; he could just as easily have meant the American edition, for which "James himself did not know the publication date, and James's bibliographers suggest that he was finally so disgusted with Harper that he may not even have looked at their edition when it was published." (30) James's arms-length distancing from the book is suggested by his saying to Mrs. Ward on December 16, immediately after the sentence I have quoted, "But it was written 4 years ago, & I feel myself rather away & 'off' from it."

And what about his repeating his error, if error it be, in preparing the New York Edition? First of all, James knew that the Methuen edition was flawed, a pastiche sewn together from inferior sources, and he would have little regard for it. He would have become accustomed to seeing the novel with the "afternoon" chapter immediately after the Sarah Pocock chapter. That was where it had been in the serialization. That was where it was in the Harper edition. When he revised in 1908 he would have felt even more "away & 'off' from it" than in 1903. James of course worked from the American edition. The Methuen edition, besides the deficiencies we have been discussing, followed English conventions of spelling and punctuation and this was to be a New York Edition. James brushed lightly past our two chapters, his significant changes being only one phrase in the "evening" chapter and five words in the "afternoon" chapter. (31) Larger matters of characterization and structure were beyond the scope of a final revision, not to be paid attention to. James didn't need to make more than perfunctory changes. He said that for The Ambassadors the need for revision was "reduced to nothing." (32) This book was "the best I have written." It certainly was. We can forgive him if he nodded. After all, it was not until 1950 that anyone noticed the error, and then it became apparent to everyone--for another forty-two years.

Notes

My footnote numbers are in parentheses: (1). My citations of page numbers for works quoted or referred to are in square brackets: [1].

1. Henry James, The Ambassadors, 2 vols (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909). Further references to the text of The Ambassadors will be cited in square brackets. Because the Norton Critical Edition of The Ambassadors, ed. S. P. Rosenbaum (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), is the edition most readily available for many readers and because it uses the "corrected" order of the chapters under discussion, the first page number in the square brackets is for the Norton Critical Edition, the second page number is for the 1909 edition.

2. Robert E. Young, "An Error in The Ambassadors," American Literature 22 (1950), 245-53.

3. Jerome McGann, "Revision, Rewriting, Rereading: or, 'An Error [Not] in The Ambassadors'," American Literature 64 (1992), 95-110.

4. David McWhirter, ed., Henry James's New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995).

5. Adrian Dover, "Chapter Order in The ambassadors," the Ladder, a Henry James website, http://www.henryjames.org.uk/novels. To find this page, click (in the menu on the left) on "index of novels' reprints," then on the link "The ambassadors," then on the link "explanatory page." (Accessed September 11, 2014).

6. S. P. Rosenbaum, "Editions and Revisions," in the Norton Critical Edition of The Ambassadors, pp. 353-67.

7. Robert E. Young, "A Final Note on The Ambassadors," American Literature 23 (1952), 487-90.

8. Leon Edel, "A Further Note on 'An Error in The Ambassadors'," American Literature 23 (1951), 128-30.

9. Brian Birch, "Henry James: Some Bibliographical and Textual Matters," The Library 20 (1965), 108-23. (p. 123).

10. Young, "An Error," pp. 252-53.

11. "Our friend was to go over it afterwards again and again..." [89; I 135]; "He was to know afterwards, in the watches of the night..." [91; I 138]; "Strether was to recall..." [95; I 148]; "Strether was to feel he had touched bottom. He was to feel many things on this occasion..." [176; II 13]; "He lacked only time for full persuasion, and Strether was to see in a moment why" [270; II 187-88].

12. Henry James, "Project of Novel by Henry James," excerpted in the Norton Critical Edition of The Ambassadors, 375-404.

13. Ibid., 403.

14. Young, "An Error," p. 252.

15. In paragraph 6 of Dover's section headed "a critical reading of the New York edition ordering."

16. Rosenbaum, pp. 354-57.

17. Rosenbaum, pp. 359-60, 357.

18. Henry James, Letter of August 13 1903, to James B. Pinker, Henry James Letters, ed. Leon Edel, 4 vols [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984], iv, 282-83.

19. Leon Edel, "The Text of the Ambassadors," Harvard Library Bulletin 14 [1960], 453-60, (p. 455).

20. Edel, "The Text," pp. 457-59.

21. Edel, "The Text," p. 457.

22. R. W. Stallman, "A Note on the Text of The Ambassadors," in Henry James, The Ambassadors, ed. R. W. Stallman (New York: New American Library, 1960), p. 381.

23. Leon Edel and Dan H. Laurence, A Bibliography of Henry James, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), p. 125.

24. Birch, pp. 108, 115-17.

25. However, James probably did make some changes for the English edition, though not so extensively as Edel thought. "Some of the changes seem to have been made for an English audience, as in the change from 'bamboozled' to 'beguiled,' 'boss' to 'run,' and perhaps even in the alteration of 'all the Mr. Brookses and Mr. Snookses' to 'all the Mr. Coxes and Mr. Coleses'" (Rosenbaum, p. 361). On the other hand, it could be argued equally that "beguiled" and "Coleses" were in the original carbon copy, then changed to "bamboozled" and "Snookses" for an American audience.

26. Letter to Jocelyn Persse of September 15, 1903, Letters, iv, 283.

27. Letter to Pinker of October 25, 1903, Letters, iv, 285.

28. Birch, p. 116.

29. McGann, p. 108, transcribing the complete letter from the manuscript in the Barrett Collection, University of Virginia Library.

30. Rosenbaum, p. 357.

31. Rosenbaum, "Textual Notes," pp. 350-51.

32. quoted in Rosenbaum, p. 362.