Henry James

The private life

(published 1893)


by Adrian Dover

A collection of tales under this title appeared on each side of the Atlantic in 1893. However, the six tales of the London edition, all of which had appeared previously in periodicals in Britain or America, were split into two groups of three for New York, under the titles The private life and The wheel of time, both from Harper. Only the London (Osgood, McIlvaine) edition is illustrated here.

Unusually among James’s books, the London Private life was issued with an art nouveau influenced gilt design on the front board. A repeated lily-bud device, which also appears once under the title on the spine, forms a vertical line, offset from the centre to divide the design in the proportion one third to two thirds, with a stylized root system at its foot. The only printing was of 1000 copies, which retailed at 5/- (five shillings) from 1893-06-03.

All six tales had first appeared in 1892 – two under slightly different titles and one, The wheel of time, spilling over to January 1893. This rapid publication rate – the largest number of his tales published in a single year, ten, occurred in 1892 and again in 1900 – was due to James’s need to support himself financially during a concerted ‘attack’ on the stage by writing mostly plays, which of course only paid if they received an option for public performance.

We can remain ambivalent about whether the title of the collection, which is the title of the first appearing tale, both chronologically and in the volume, hints at any sort of thematic link between the contents. While each tale does contrast a public and a private side of a person or people or a situation, much of James’s fiction can be said to do this and it is open to question whether the accent here is more on the private. James had already used a collection title differing from its contents in his 1884 Tales of three cities and would start doing so again three years after The private life with Terminations, but here he (or his publishers?) have fallen back on listing the tales on the title page with the first in large type. As I have now edited all six tales for the Ladder, you can read them and make up your own mind as to any connections: just click over any of the titles on the image of the contents page (only The private life itself is linked to a further page-image) or return to the edition menu and select them there.

You can view sample page images of the original edition by selecting from the menu on the left – the first page(s) of tales have links on to my edition of that tale. I have also provided a bibliography containing full details of the publication and subsequent critical discussion of the contents as a whole. To read any of the tales in their edition on this site, you can either click over the appropriate title on the illustration of the contents page, or you can follow links from the general menu of editions.

this menu and introduction © 2004–2009
part of an edition of The private life
on the Ladder : a Henry James website