Regina gives an overview of the book:
I could have titled this essay, “Henry James: A Love Story,” for I confess myself a shameless Jacobite, a devotee of the bald and bearded master of Anglo-American prose. Although canonical, Henry James is not a universal taste. His stately, exacting sentences, famously qualified and elaborated--conscientious to the brink of neurosis--have broken better readers than me. But I must carry the James gene. I’ve found myself rooted in bookstore aisles, helplessly snared by the opening pages of The Spoils of Poynton or The Wings of the Dove. The marginal notes in my old Penguin paperback of What Maisie Knew look like speech bubbles for Batman: No!, ?!!, Wow!
James even played a crucial but characteristically subtle role in the direction of my professional life. I might have become a James scholar, rather than a Woolf scholar, if not for a wrong turn. At twenty-three, I was on my way to the James shrine, Lamb House, in Rye, East Sussex, when I ended up on the A26 instead of the A21. On the outskirts of Lewes, I spotted a sign for Monk’s House, Virginia Woolf’s country home. The arrow pointed away from Rye. I turned. As a result, my affinity for James remains at the level of a love affair, not a spiritual union. I took the veil—which comes with a crumpled straw hat, redolent of Bloomsbury summers—for Woolf.
So I approached The Bostonians with trembling, as another woman might approach a piece of sachertorte and a double espresso. Rich hours were promised to me. After my immersion—my revelry in James’s prose style: “sublime, nuanced, imbricated with a thousand distinctions and observations,” as Cynthia Ozick, another James victim, describes it—I expected to surface storm-dazed but serene, my every thought illuminated, for days afterward, by the golden gaslight of The Bostonians.
For several pages, I clung to this dewy misapprehension. Gradually, the new light dawned. I did not like The Bostonians; The Bostonians did not like me. . . .
San Francisco writer Regina Marler is the author of Bloomsbury Pie: The Making of the Bloomsbury Boom (Holt), and the editor of Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell (Pantheon) and Queer Beats: How the Beats Turned America on to Sex (Cleis). She...