After suffering severe pains in his right wrist in 1896, probably from a writer’s cramp, James took to dictating most of his work to a type-writer (person) with a typewriter (machine). By the time of the composition of The papers in 1902 this person was Miss Mary Weld, who took lodgings and attended James at Lamb House in Rye, Sussex, most mornings when he was in residence. She left a record of work in the autumn of 1902 which is reported by Leon Edel in his biographies of James (the original Henry James : the master, 1901–1916 — page 131; and its abridgement The life of Henry James, vol. 2 — pages 460–461)

In summer 1902 James discovered that the tales to be collected in The better sort would not fill the proposed number of pages. He may have been misled as to the space available in the collection by the much closer printing in Methuen’s volume compared with the earlier ones from Heinemann (UK) and Macmillan (US) – in fact the Methuen production looks much closer in style to post-First World War editions. With more space at his disposal James returned to his notebooks and picked up some of the unused ideas. The resulting tales become The beast in the jungle, The Papers, The birthplace and one left incomplete, provisionally entitled The beautiful child. Miss Weld’s log records dictation of these works on the following days :

Beast Papers Birthplace Child
 1 July
12 October
16 October
24 July
 1 August
11 August
11 October
16 October
 5 November
13 November
14 August
30 September
10 October
11 July
22 July

In each case, apart from The beautiful child, the last date recorded is the date of completion of the tale. Unfortunately Edel is silent as to whether the log indicates that these were the only days on which each tale was worked on and if all the ‘missing’ days are accounted for by James’s proof-reading The wings of the dove, dealing with correspondence and so on. Certainly on 8 August Miss Weld recorded ‘no work, Mr James revising,’ and other entries record the time spent dealing with the arrival of furniture and books (mid-July) from James’s London flat, of which he had recently sold the lease.

Whatever the exact details, we can be certain that work on The papers was interspersed with much other writing and revising, including composition of a tale with a completely different ‘tone’ and pace (The beast in the jungle). Truly the workshop of a master craftsman.


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