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Henry James's Europe

Dennis Tredy
Annick Duperray
Adrian Harding

VI. Authorship and Self-Representation

23. Friction with the Publishers, or How James Manipulated his Editors in the Early 1870’s

Pierre A. Walker

Texte intégral

1This volume appears to take its theme from the prominence today in American literary studies of what is variously called trans-Atlantic or transnational studies. As Paul Giles wrote in the 2003 PMLA: ”American literature should be seen as no longer bound to the inner workings of any particular country or imagined organic community but instead as interwoven systematically with traversals between national territory and intercontinental space” (63).

2As a James scholar, and in fact as one who carries two passports, I completely endorse what Lawrence Buell has called this ”recent Americanist push to think ’beyond’ or ’outside’ the confines of nationness” (Buell 90). But at the same time—and again as a James scholar—I’m inclined to shrug my shoulders and ask: ”So what?” It has always seemed obvious to me that James ”travers[ed] […] national territory and intercontinental space,” to use Giles’s words again, and did so through his fiction, his non-fiction, and his personal and professional relationships, so many of which were trans-Atlantic and maintained through correspondence that literally traversed ”intercontinental space” (63).

3What I want to focus on here is James’s very practical intercontinental ’traversals’ as he worked in the mid-1870’s to place the serial versions of Roderick Hudson and The American in American periodicals at the most favorable terms possible. In placing these two serials, he worked first Scribner’s and then the Galaxy against the Atlantic Monthly and established a pattern of manipulating his editors and publishers.

4While James was living in Florence in March 1874, he received a letter from Josiah Holland, editor of Scribner’s, in which Holland invited James to submit a novel for serialisation in his magazine. Rather than replying directly, James immediately began to use Holland’s invitation as leverage to get his novel serialised in the Atlantic Monthly. He explained to his parents (in a letter dated 9 March 1874) that, all else being equal (in other words, the money), he felt ”under a tacit pledge” to offer a novel first to the Atlantic; doing otherwise would be ”unfriendly” to William Dean Howells, the Atlantic’s editor and James’s friend and mentor (Complete Letters 133).

5Therefore what James did was to write two separate answers to Holland, one declining and the other accepting Holland’s invitation. He sent these answers home to his father with instructions to forward the appropriate one to Holland pending the outcome of negotiations with Howells. Then he wrote to Howells and put the question to him as a ”grim” matter of business: would the Atlantic match Holland’s offer and serialise a twelve-monthly installment novel, beginning in November 1874, for twelve hundred dollars? (Complete Letters 137).

6Six weeks later, when he received a letter from his father ”enclosing Howells’s acceptance of my story for the Atlantic,” James learned that the answer was ”yes” (Complete Letters 150). Roderick Hudson began its serial run in the January 1875 issue of the Atlantic, which appeared in late December 1874 (not November). Serialisation concluded with the November 1875 issue, at which point James Osgood published the book edition. Thanks to leveraging the invitation from Scribner’s, James achieved what he wanted: $1,200 for the serial rights to his novel, publication commencing in the late fall of 1874 (which was important, since payment only started with publication), and exposure in the more prestigious Atlantic.

7For his next novel, The American, James played not Scribner’s but the Galaxy off against the Atlantic. On 1 December 1875, having just settled in Paris, James wrote to the editors of the Galaxy, the brothers Francis Pharcellus Church and William Conant Church, proposing they serialise the novel he was working on:

I propose to take for granted, as soon as I can, that you will be ready to publish, on receipt of them, the opening chapters of a novel. I have got at work upon one sooner than I expected, & particularly desire it to come out without delay
(Life in Letters 61).

8The language with which James makes his proposal is striking: ”I propose to take for granted” that you will ”publish, on receipt” and ”without delay” ”the opening chapters” of my new novel. In simple terms: publish my novel right away!

9We don’t know how the Churches replied, but James wrote his mother on 11 January 1876 that ”I expect to begin a novel in the April Galaxy: to run thro’ nine numbers—to December” (Life in Letters 65). He then sent the Churches the first two installments of The American, and on 8 February 1876, James wrote his brother William that he was still ”working at the novel I have begun for the Galaxy” (Correspondence of William James 254).

10But even as he sent the Galaxy the first two installments of The American, James was beginning to play this magazine off against the Atlantic. Howells had written James on 16 January 1876, inviting James to submit a new serial novel to the Atlantic (Letters, Fictions, Lives 115). James received this letter just after he mailed the first installment of The American to the Galaxy and just before mailing the second one. On 3 February 1876, the day before he mailed the second installment, he wrote to Howells. He explained that for financial reasons he needed to have a serial begin as soon as possible, that he had assumed that the Atlantic would not be able to begin a serial of a new James novel until June or July, that he assumed the new novel would begin to appear in the March or April Galaxy, and therefore that since ”it was the money question that had to determine me” he had not considered writing Howells about serialising The American in the Atlantic. However, James added, had Howells written ”some weeks before,” his ”extreme preference to have the thing appear in the Atlantic might have induced me to wait till the time you mention.” But, James suggested, all was not lost. For one, James proposed serialising his next novel after The American starting in the January 1877 Atlantic. But more importantly, James hinted that the serialisation of The American in the Galaxy was not entirely settled. James complained of the Churches’ ”insufferable nonchalance, […] neglect and ill-manners” for having ”left me very much in the dark as to whether my conditions are acceptable to them” (James was asking $150 per installment). He had, therefore, ”written to them [i.e. the Churches] that if they are not satisfied they are immediately to forward my parcel [of manuscript] to you” (Letters, Fictions, Lives 115).

11Only a fragment of this letter to the Churches has survived. But we know from James’s next extant letter to the Church brothers (of 3 March 1876) that he had written them to insist on publication beginning as soon as possible and on $150 per installment.

12In spite of having, at the beginning of February 1876, written to the Churches to spell out his terms, and in spite of his having indicated in his letter of 3 February to Howells that the Churches had not as yet accepted his conditions, on 4 February he mailed the second installment to the Galaxy. It is only in March 1876 that it becomes apparent that the Churches were not meeting James’s expectation of almost immediate publication. In his letter of 3 March 1876, James replied to a now lost letter from the Churches of 18 February. In his reply, James made it as clear as he could that $150 per installment was his price, and that while he had ”hoped” that the first installment would appear in the ”April” number (though he first wrote ”March”), he now expected it to appear in the ”May” issue (though he had first written ”April”). If the Galaxy could not meet these conditions, he wrote, ”I must forego the pleasure of having the story appear in the Magazine.” In that case, he added, ”I shall be obliged to you […] for despatching [the manuscript…] without even a day’s delay […] to my father” in Cambridge (Henry James Letters 31).

13Eleven days later, James still did not know the outcome. He wrote to William on 14 March that ”there is a hitch” in the Galaxy’s serialisation of The American ”thro’ their threatening delay of publication.” Henry explained that he had instructed the Churches, in case of a delay, to send the manuscript to Henry James Sr., who ”would make it straight over to Howells.” ”I don’t know how it will turn out,” he added, ”& meanwhile it annoys me” (Correspondence of William James 257).

14The uncertainty lasted only two or three weeks more. Howells, in the meanwhile, had negotiated directly with the Churches. He had written the Church brothers on 29 February 1876, suggesting that if ”you can’t use Mr. James’s new serial, conveniently, wont you turn it over to me? I should be very glad to get it, and you may for editorial reasons, be glad to get rid of it, and so I make bold to ask for it.” The Churches did not reply immediately, and Howells wrote them again on 5 March 1876: ”I should be glad to know within a week what your decision in regard to Mr. James’s story is.” Howells and the Churches reached an agreement shortly thereafter. Someone at the Galaxy wrote on Howells’s second letter: ”Mss sent per Exh Mch 11/76,” apparently referring to an exchange of materials between the Galaxy and the Atlantic. The installments James had already sent the Galaxy were transferred to Howells, and The American began its serial run in the Atlantic in the June 1876 issue, concluding with the issue of May 1877.

15James learned during the first days of April 1876 of the arrangement between Howells and the Churches. He wrote to Howells on 4 April that he was ”very glad now that you have got hold of my story” and ”very well pleased that you should have made your proposal to Church” (Letters, Fictions, Lives 117). Given the minimum ten days it took letters to travel between Paris and Boston, Howells must have heard back from the Churches around the middle of March, about the time that they had received James’s 3 March letter to them, where James had repeated as clearly as possible his terms of $150 per installment and almost immediate publication.

16That’s the story of James’s placing the serial version of The American. Eight months later, on New Year’s Day 1877, James wrote to James Osgood to offer him the book version of The American. Nothing exceptional here, as Osgood had published all three of James’s books to date. ”I have delayed writing to you longer than I intended,” wrote James, ”to ask you whether you are disposed to publish as a volume my novel of The American.” Nothing exceptional here, as I say, except for the tone James then takes: ”I suppose I may safely assume that you will do so, and that you will offer the same terms as for Roderick Hudson” (Rosenbaum 533-34). Notice how James takes for granted, much as he did when he first wrote the Churches to offer them the serial of The American, that his correspondent will allow James to dictate his terms. Perhaps this was James’s way of dealing with editors and publishers by appearing to query them from a position of strength rather than as a supplicant, young author.

17What must have motivated Howells and James in the Roderick Hudson and American incidents is clear: James, with his pressing need to keep up with reimbursements to his father, who was advancing the costs of James’s European travels, needed to generate a steady income through constant publication. In addition, James stood to gain through serialising his novels in the Atlantic, possibly the most prestigious American literary magazine at the time. Howells, apparently, wanted to solidify James’s situation as an ”Atlantic author,” which explains the steps he took to arrange with the Churches the transfer of The American from the Galaxy to the Atlantic.

18What is not as clear is what motivated the Churches. The Galaxy already had a long serial novel running at the time James wanted them to begin The American: William Black’s Madcap Violet, which began serialisation in the Galaxy’s January 1876 issue and concluded in the January 1877 issue. So making room just then for the serial of James’s The American was no doubt a genuine editorial problem for the Galaxy. But there was probably an additional problem, one we catch a glimpse of if we note some of James’s derogatory remarks to others about the Churches. For instance, in his 4 April [1876] letter to Howells, James stated that the ”conduct” of the Churches ”remains to me a mystery” (Letters, Fictions, Lives 117). James’s work had been appearing in the Galaxy practically since its inception (”A Day of Days” appeared in the magazine’s fourth issue, of 15 June 1866). Perplexity at and dissatisfaction with the editors of the Galaxy were persistent themes for James, and we can tell why from a remark in his 26 October 1873 letter to Henry Sr.: ”I am sorry to hear such accounts from you of the dishonesty of Sheldon & Church” (Complete Letters 63). Sheldon, here, is the publisher Isaac Sheldon, whose New York publishing company had owned the Galaxy since 1868. James’s correspondence with the Churches suggests that Sheldon exercised a considerable degree of control over the Churches’ editorial decisions, especially over the purse strings. This becomes clear if we consider James’s last dealings with the Churches, before the Galaxy ceased to publish in 1878.

19Not content with having worked Scribner’s in 1874 and the Galaxy in 1876 against the Atlantic, James did it again in 1877 with The Europeans. On 26 May 1877, having now established himself in London, James wrote to William Church to propose that the Galaxy serialise his next novel. ”Shall you be disposed,” James wrote, ”to begin a serial novel […] on the month of January next?” He added, though, and in a slightly less compliant tone: ”Will you let me know as to this without delay?” James broke off negotiations about this proposed serialisation in August, because Sheldon would not unambiguously endorse the terms of publication. Adopting an angry tone, James wrote in an unpublished letter of 27 August 1877:

You say that you are not to be in the least responsible for payment & that I am to look for it to Messrs. Sheldon, to whom you have sent my letter for acceptance. […] You say that their the printing of my story will be equivalent to acceptance, on their part, of my terms; but I cannot proceed with it in this uncertainty, and as I cannot afford to wait for further interchange of letters, I must consider our negotiations as interrupted—or rather, as at an end. […] What if Messrs. Sheldon should signify their non-acceptance by not printing my opening chapters & I should be left with them on my hands?

20Apparently it was Sheldon the publisher, and not the Church brothers, who decided the Galaxy’s terms with its authors. James’s queries to the Churches about serialising therefore had to be approved by Sheldon. We know this from notes written by Galaxy editorial staff on the back of James’s 26 May 1877 letter to William Church, where James offered The Europeans. One note says: ”See letter of Sheldon & Co of July 3,” and the other: ”Respectfully respond to Mssrs Sheldon & Co. As Mr. James has just published a novel [The American, in fact] which has attracted more attention than any for a long time published I should second this if possible.”

21One can easily picture the Churches’ difficulty when they found themselves in competition with Howells for James’s work. The Churches could not agree directly to terms with James; they needed first to have Sheldon’s approval. This explains why they appeared to leave James ”in the dark” about his terms for serialising The American. Howells, on the other hand, could negotiate directly with his author on behalf of the Atlantic. James, needing to pay his way in Paris in 1876 and London in 1877, could not afford to wait for Sheldon to make up his mind. No wonder The American and The Europeans were serialised in the Atlantic and not the Galaxy.

22If he knew that the Churches could not act without Sheldon’s approval, James may have made proposals to the Churches expecting to wait some time for their definite reply. In the meanwhile, James could have exploited their delay with overtures to Howells. Or perhaps James was simply lucky, lucky that the Churches couldn’t give immediate answers, lucky that Howells could, and lucky that Howells was anxious to publish as much of James’s work as he could. Whatever the truth may be, James succeeded in placing Roderick Hudson, The American, and The Europeans in the prestigious Atlantic and at terms he deemed favorable. We have to conclude that in spite of the distance across the Atlantic Ocean, James worked to obtain the most favorable conditions from his magazine editors, and that he relished doing so. Just as ”Daisy Miller” completed its two-installment run in the Cornhill and just as The Europeans was beginning to appear in the Atlantic, James wrote his mother in an unpublished letter of 4 July 1878:

Leslie Stephen came to see me the other day to ask me for a serial novel for the Cornhill; & I had the superior vantage of replying to him that I was engaged to furnish my next to Mcmillan. So you see I am in a superior position, being able to work the 2 leading [British] magazines against each other. But don’t breathe a word of this; I do nothing save discreetly.

23Thanks to the work of Michael Anesko and others, we know that James was diligent at the practical aspects of publishing and making a living as a writer. While Anesko (41) and Leon Edel (Henry James V 160-61 and 245-47) have already outlined for us James’s dealings in relation to the serialisation of Roderick Hudson and The American, I don’t believe anyone has described in quite as much detail as James’s complete letters provide the manipulations James undertook in order to place these serial novels. Furthermore, I think my more detailed account shows that James wrote his early novels when he knew where they would appear. In March 1876, when it was not clear who would serialise The American and when, James suspended work on it (Letters, Fictions, Lives 117); as soon as Howells had sealed the deal, he went right back to work; ”I am now actively at work upon it,” as he wrote his father on 11 April 1876, after he heard from Howells that the Galaxy turned The American over to the Atlantic (Henry James Letters 39). Let me conclude, therefore, by suggesting to critics planning to work on these novels that they bear in mind that James wrote them (at least wrote the first drafts) knowing precisely who his audience would be.


Pierre A. Walker is Professor of English at Salem State University. He is the author of Reading Henry James in French Cultural Contexts and of articles on Henry James, African American literature, and literary theory; editor of Henry James on Culture; and co-general editor of The Complete Letters of Henry James.


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