chapter  7
13 Pages

‘Doing something’ for the Soldiers of the Civil War

In the ction James was to write a er the early Civil War tales, the gure of the soldier disappears and the subject of the war, with the exception of several references in Th e Bostonians, is only occasionally touched upon in a silence which lasted for about forty years. It is not until the late discursive and autobiographical writing of his nal decade, his extended return to America and later exposure to the letters of family and friends dating from the 1860s, that James once more considers his early years in New York and New England, and the war which changed the national consciousness. In the revelatory and expressive detail of A Small Boy and Others (1913) and Notes of a Son and Brother (1914) he returns to the period of his youth and invests in the gure of the soldier, both abstract and individualized, his feelings for young men and their place in the national history. ey constitute, for James, the Civil War, their heroism and beauty the object of his admiration, and their premature deaths the motive for his ‘memorializing’ them. In a variety of roles he, at this late and emboldened stage, will serve these young men, humbly and in a ‘brothering’ capacity as well as restoring their bodies through the erotic potential of his discourse; in a sequence of portraits he will, indeed, ‘do something’ for them. ‘ e Story of a Year’, ‘An Extraordinary Case’ and ‘Poor Richard’ were never revived by James for the New York Edition (in common with all the other short stories published before 1871), but, in a sense, he would revise the messages they contain and access once more their romantic emotions as he ‘sounded’, or ‘– if rather terrible the image – “dragged”’ the past in the powerful reminiscences completed in his last years.1