I was reading Hermione Lee's review of the latest book on the famous James family, by Paul Fisher, yesterday and trying to figure out whether I liked it or not. Although it was a little too sprawling for my taste, I appreciated Lee's attention to language, as when she provided a list of some the biographer's favorite phrases. And then I came across a paragraph that made me laugh out loud in pleasure and admiration:
Fisher’s most disconcerting decision is to refer, throughout, to Henry James as “Harry.” This is fair enough when he is a little boy, but leads to trouble when he becomes a major novelist and legendary subject of biography. So we get “Harry’s smash-hit novella ‘Daisy Miller,’” and “Harry finished his final installment of ‘The Portrait of a Lady,’” and Leon Edel’s “painstaking analysis of Harry.” It’s as if I had written a whole biography of Edith Wharton referring to her by her childhood nickname, “Pussy," or as if Richard Holmes had called Shelley throughout by his family name, “Bysshe.”I don't know whether the chain of sound association here was consciously selected, but it sure is funny, especially in a review of a book with lots of material about Henry James's presumed sexual repression.