Henry James

Tales of three cities

(published 1884)


by Adrian Dover

This was the first collection of James’s tales to appear under a title other than that of the first tale in the volume, apart from the full 14 volume Collective edition in London the previous year. Possibly suggested by the title of Charles Dickens’s novel of the French revolution, A tale of two cities (1859), the three cities invoked are the major scenes of action in the three tales: London (Lady Barberina), New York (Lady Barberina and The impressions of a cousin) and Boston (A New England winter). The foreshadowing of James’s working and publishing ideas of the later 1890s, evident in the specific collection title, is not the only such resonance we can find here, utilizing the benefit of hindsight. As I point out in my introductions and comments about Lady Barberina and The impressions of a cousin we can spot themes, attitudes and narrative methods which are important ingredients in such classics as The turn of the screw (1898) and The awkward age.

All the more surprising then that the three tales in this collection were written for the same outlet and editor, the Century magazine under Richard Gilder. After their appearance at different times in the magazine in 1883 and 1884 it was logical that they appear in a book under the Osgood imprint in Boston – he was publisher of the magazine and a long time supporter of James. As usual at this time the volume was contracted to Macmillan in London for British and colonial publication. It appeared in the two months after the final instalment of the third published tale: Osgood’s issue on 1884-10-17, retailing at $1.50, and Macmillan’s on 1884-11-81 at 4/6d. Each edition comprised 1500 copies; it is not clear that a reprint was ever required! Because copyright was not held in common between Britain and the United States at this time, copyright pamphlet ‘publication’ of each tale took place during 1883–1884 as each tale appeared in the (US) periodical. Unusually, the printed order of tales in the collection varies between the two editions; the American following the order in which they tales appeared in the Century magazine and the English having the tale with the London setting place first.

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 Tales of three cities
on the Ladder : a Henry James website