Friday, March 29, 2013

Hallman's Wm & Hry

Wm & Hry: Literature, Love and the Letters between William & Henry James / J.C. Hallman
Iowa City: U of Iowa Press, c2013.
156 p.

I read this via Netgalley, a while ago now, thanks to a recommendation by Stefanie at So Many Books. I find both William and Henry James fascinating, and of course, was immediately interested in their correspondence. I read it quickly and with great interest, although making comments on it has taken me a bit longer to get to!

The book is not a collection of letters per se, however. It is an analysis of how their relationship was played out through their writing, as they were so often living an ocean apart. Hallman has a great feel for the two of them, and considers tidbits from the letters and from their published writings, tying these revelations together to trace influences, expectations and the regular literary criticism that flew back and forth.

I'd love to actually read the letters myself, to get a wider picture of the whole correspondence, as this book gave a taste of what the brothers sounded like in private. I thought it was very well done, drawing links between William and Henry's writing styles and how they influenced one another's work, psychology and literature alike. It also showed a fairly normal sibling relationship, with both spats and TMI moments (especially regarding Henry's bowels...) They talk about their daily lives and the people they knew -- quite gossipy, these two -- and it is all Quite Interesting.

I enjoyed the way that the author dug in and gave us what amounts to a lengthy dissertation on these letters and how they shaped and reflected this brotherly relationship. It was illuminating and very appealing, and Hallman has a wonderful style of his own. Throughout I was thinking about all the stories I've read about the lives of both James brothers, and how the close relationship between them was a part about which I'd been lacking information. It certainly adds an intimacy to the picture I have of them, and adds more colour to both individuals. Also, as one Amazon reviewer has noted, it also contains "debunking of some scurrilous Jamesian myths"!

If you like either James, or are simply intrigued by letters between two massively intelligent brothers, and are looking for a surprisingly quick and flowing read, try this one out. Also, be sure to check out the author's wonderful blog about the letters, with excerpts and photos and more. It's great!


  1. Wonderful review! I will take a look at the author's blog.

  2. So glad you enjoyed this! The James brothers were such prolific letter writers that their collected letters are several volumes. Yikes! So I've put off diving in for a little while :)


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