Peter Walker: Fellowship Recipient

Peter Walker: Fellowship Recipient

WALKER: My basic, long-term project is that I’m the co-general editor of The Complete Letters of Henry James. The Ransom Center has 500 of James’ letters. A fair number of those have been published at one time, but one of the things we’re doing is editing all the letters from scratch. We do often work from microfilm or scans that we’ve ordered ahead of time, but when you can work right from the manuscript it’s really wonderful because you can read it so much more easily than even the best reproductions. Especially as we also include all the changes that the writer made. So if he crossed a word out, or if he started to write one word and then wrote another word over it, that we include. Scholars began to question why James had never married, and why is it not known that James ever had a lover, or girlfriend, or anything like that. People began to be more and more certain that he was, if not an active homosexual, at least homosexually inclined, and this has led to a lot of great different readings of his fiction, for example. There was a time when, in the 1920s, for example, when certain of James’ letters would never have been published, because the feeling would be that his nieces and nephews who were still alive would be horribly embarrassed. Now our thinking is that when you have it all, everything is available one way or another, people can decide for themselves, or at least study for themselves, the evidence one way or the other. One of the young men with whom James became very, very close late in his life was an English novelist named Hugh Walpole. James’ letters to Walpole are part of the collection here. There are about 76, I think, of those letters. You can trace the entire development of their relationship, from the first letter James sent to Walpole with a response to this sort of out-of-the-blue letter that Walpole has sent him, to shortly before James died. You can see how that friendship develops, and you can see how it becomes very intense at certain times. It will be possible to, as I just did this last month, read right through this relationship. An edition like this has to get the texts of these letters absolutely right. The whole point is to save people the need to have to go to a library.

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