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‘No absolute privacy’: Henry James and the Ethics of Reading Authors’ Letters

Author(s): Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen

Journal: Authorship
ISSN 2034-4643

Volume: 1;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Henry James | Letters | Correspondence | Authorship | Privacy

Authors’ private letters play a significant role in Henry James’s fiction, literary criticism and in his literary and authorial legacy. They are privileged discursive objects activating fundamental issues of privacy and publicity, canonicity and the material condition of literature. The letter is a contested discursive object in James’s work, since it is at one and the same time a potent figure for authenticity and interiority, and consequently poses a threat to the author’s desire to control his own literary corpus and his privacy. In this article, James’s personal and private investment in designing his literary testament (his private letters and his definitive collected edition) is discussed in the context of his ethical and aesthetic concerns with reading the publications of authors’ private correspondences.
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