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Cult of the Master The later Henry James was a master of technique But how good a novelist was he Henry James Novels 1896-1899 Library of America he story of Henry Jamess fruitless flirtation with the theater has been so often told that it has become folkloric invoked and repeated by generations of marveling Jamesians Everyone knows the tale of the first night in London of his historical play Guy Domville 1895 --how the nervous playwright spent the evening down the road at the Wildely successful new play An Ideal Husband by Jamess despised rival the mechanical Oscar how he finally slipped into his own theater just as the performance was ending how he was led on stage by the plays actor-manager ostensibly to enjoy the curtain call but in reality to receive the boos and jeers of a large proportion of the audience how a few moments earlier when this same actor-manager had declaimed from the stage Im the last my lord of the Domvilles a cry had come from the seats Its a bloody good thing yare Leon Edel who tells this story well in his five-volume biography of James fails to mention only one detail that Jamess play was preceded in the same program by a one-act comedy written by a certain Julian Field titled Too Happy By Half That tells us in four words what the mandarin moralist was up against in his quixotic campaign amid the lights of the West End he had about as much chance with his audience as Don Quixote had with his gang of convicts Guy Domville was his only original play to make it to the boards He had loaded it with all his longing for popular success He was never seriously involved in the theater again Few writers have been as reliably amnestied as Henry James From the 1940s to the 1970s he was steadily enshrined as both
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