As his letters attest, for nearly forty years Henry James enjoyed a warm and gratifying friendship with Britain’s foremost soldier of the last quarter of the nineteenth century and his wife. The Wolseleys were notable figures. Lord Wolseley, the field marshal who became Britain’s commander in chief of the British army, was a national hero. Both a bibliophile and an author, Wolseley was described by Henry James to his brother William as an "excellent example of the cultivated British soldier." Lady Wolseley was also well-read, as well as stylish, strong-willed, and shrewd, and in Henry’s view, a delightful correspondent—in short, as the editor writes, "precisely the kind of woman James most admired."
In The Master, the Modern Major General, and His Clever Wife, Alan James offers a collection of more than one hundred letters—most of them published here for the first time—that Henry James wrote to the Wolseleys, the majority to Lady Wolseley. Included are an overall introduction to the letters; separate introductory profiles of Lord and Lady Wolseley along with commentaries on the factors that drew James and the Wolseleys together; introductions to each of four sections of the letters, divided chronologically; and annotations throughout, identifying the notable men and women to whom James refers as well as comparing what James and the Wolseleys thought of them and their work.
Henry James's relationship with the Wolseleys, as displayed in these letters, is a key to understanding his place in English society and his attitudes toward England during his long exile. Alan James offers us an invaluable introduction to Lord and Lady Wolseley and their world, a world which fascinated James and which he sought to understand, and, in some of his novels, dramatize. The letters themselves are brilliant examples of Henry James's style.
From the first glimpse of the title, invoking Gilbert and Sullivan's opera, through the excellent introductory essays and first-rate headnotes and annotations, to the previously unpublished letters Henry James wrote to one or the other or both of the Wolseleys, one reads Alan James's edition both with delight at the new circumstances in which we find James and with a new understanding of his biography. This is a superb book.
Alan G. James has written several articles about Henry James that have appeared in the Henry James Review. He lives with his wife, Marjorie, in Bethesda, Maryland.