The letters of writers offer a strangely public view of their private selves. Most people put on a show in their correspondence, but for a writer that show involves a professional display. How much they decide to invest in it says a great deal about them – about how deeply they have been stained by work. It may be a sign of more important virtues if a writer writes boring letters, for it proves that he doesn’t take his literary self too seriously, that he is willing, at times, to let it drop. Henry James’s correspondence presents a particularly interesting test of that willingness. As a novelist, he created a kind of prose that was most remarkable, perhaps, for its finish. His style gave his characteristic colour to whatever it touched on. Part of the attraction of his letters lies in the fact that they allow us to question how consistently, as a friend, a brother and a son, he managed to keep it up.
more from the TLS here.