JamesF-L is the on-line discussion group concerning Henry James.
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The following is a sample posting to JamesF-L, by John R. Bradley, dated December 8, 1998.
PREFACE, by John R. Bradley, to HENRY JAMES AND HOMO-EROTIC DESIRE
[Edited by John R. Bradley; Introduction by Sheldon M. Novick. Published on 11 December 1998 by Macmillan in the UK (ISBN: 0333732170) St Martin's in North America (ISBN: 0312217641)].
This collection of essays is the first book-length work of criticism to explore the subject of Henry James and homosexuality. It should be made clear at the outset, however, that there is no intention to claim James as a 'gay novelist', or to see his fiction as 'gay fiction'. Nor is there any suggestion that James was somehow psychologically distressed about his homosexuality, or that in some limited, opportunistic way James usefully can be claimed as a gay icon for the present age. Novelists who are known to have been homosexual have not infrequently been portrayed, by gay and straight critics alike, as having dealt with the subject in an obsessive way, and this has occasionally - particularly in recent years - been true; but I have never thought that to have been the case with, say, Marcel Proust or E.M. Forster, both of whom dealt with homosexuality and much else besides, and I do not think it to have been the case with Henry James either. Jane Austen, after all, was not obsessively heterosexual, and no critic, to my knowledge, has accused her of so being. Like James, she wrote about what she knew best, or wanted to know better.
James himself is presented sexually as having been a rather self-confident individual who was cautiously attracted to, and frequently fell in love with, younger men and boys, with whom (particularly during his later years) he may well on occasion actually have made love. The social gay liberation movements of the Victorian period distressed him as well as interested him, not because he wished to deny his sexuality, but because he understandably did not wish to be compartmentalised. This would not in itself be worth mentioning if Jameseans (for reasons best known to themselves) had tried to cover up James's homosexuality, or explain it away, over the years. I hope that this volume, along with Sheldon M. Novick's biography of James, will come to be seen as marking a moment when the image of James as a repressed, asexual author living only for the world of the mind - so much encouraged by the late Leon Edel and others - is finally revealed to have been an academic absurdity fuelled by historical fancy.
Just as in his life James resisted being labelled categorically 'a homosexual' in a way that would have neatly (and falsely) summed him up, nothing now could be more objectionable that an approach to James that had as its goal the crude summing up: 'It's all about his being queer!' However, it is important that gay and lesbian themes and characters are focused on in isolation because hitherto overlooked or deliberately ignored aspects of the fiction can then be brought clearly to the fore. In the essays that follow, homosexuality in the novels and stories is explored as a crucial aspect of fictional worlds in which both heterosexuality and homosexuality find (or fail to find) their proper place, which is to say alongside the many other to which they are intimately related, James will be seen, not to have been more narrowly focused and therefore easily understood - as certain hostile Jameseans would appear to fear is the inevitable outcome of a gay approach to James's fiction - but as an even more extraordinarily expansive, subtle and curious author than has previously been recognised.
John R. Bradley, Exeter College, Oxford, OX1 3DP, England