Henry James reads Walter Scott again

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This article reassesses Henry James’s attitude to the historical novels of Walter Scott in light of James’s observation, made early on in the First World War, that the current global situation “makes Walter Scott, him only, readable again.” Scott’s novels were strongly associated for James with young readers and a juvenile, escapist mode of reading; and yet close attention to James’s comments on Scott in his criticism, notebooks and correspondence, and examination of a recurring image of children as readers and listeners to oral stories in the work of both authors, indicate that James engaged with Scott’s presentation of the historical and personal past more extensively and in more complex ways than have hitherto been suspected. Scott’s example as a novelist and editor notably informs James’s practice in several late works: the family memoir Notes of a Son and Brother (1914), the New York Edition of his novels and tales (1907–9), and the unfinished, posthumously published novel The Sense of the Past (1917).

Bibliographic note

Submitted for inclusion in a special issue of the journal, 'Forms of Literary Relations in Henry James', ed. Simone Francescato (Ca' Foscari, Venice)


Original languageEnglish
Article number39
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2021


  • Henry James (1843–1916), Walter Scott (1771–1832), historical novels, collected editions, periodicals, oral tradition, autobiography, history of reading