ABSTRACT

In 1884 William James completed a posthumous work of his father, Henry James Sr., entitled The Literary Remains of the Late Henry James. This volume included, alongside an unfinished final work, Spiritual Creation, and a previously published popular essay on the British political reformer Thomas Carlyle, Henry James Sr.’s fabricated autobiographical work Immortal Life-fabricated in so far as it was written as the autobiography of a certain “Stephen Dewhurst” and went to great lengths to disguise fictitiously many aspects of Henry Sr.’s life.1 It, for example, altered the details of arguably the most central incident of that life, the multiple amputations of his right leg, damaged during a “game of fire-ball” at the age of thirteen, for “a gun-shot wound” to the arm.2 Even more bizarre is the fact that the autobiography is framed as edited by Henry James Sr. himself, with an introduction claiming “Stephen Dewhurst” was a close friend at an unnamed theological seminary, presumably referring to Henry James Sr.’s actual time at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, from 1835-1837. The painful reality of Henry James Sr.’s life was such, as Alfred Habegger’s (1994: 8) excellent biography shows, that actual memory and biography, the literal scar tissue and rejection by the father, were profoundly difficult. That difficulty echoes in the depression and anxiety of his five children-William, Henry Jr., Garth Wilkinson, Robertson and Alice-who in different ways carried the outcome of the wounds, not least through the complex aspects of guilt, shame and anger that layered Henry James Sr.’s theological writings and deeply unsettled his life. This unsettled life was enacted-and exacerbated-in the sudden movements back and forth to Europe at points of Henry Sr.’s inner frustration and turmoil.3 Such turmoil, as Andrew Taylor (2002) suggests,

and as James’s introduction to his father’s work illustrates, does not negate the rich and valuable intellectual ideas he brought to his children. The very oppression-with all its theological dressing-was both wound and insight, neither one nor the other in isolation.