Books: The Subtleties of Cruelty

THE COMPLETE TALES OF HENRY JAMES, VOLUMES I AND II (876 pp.)—Edited by Leon Edel—Lippincoff ($ 11.90).

Writers from Sophocles to James Jones have believed in winning readers by giving them plenty of action. But in Henry James's 20 novels and 112 tales of upper-class life, blood is rarely spilled (and if it is, hastily wiped away), sex is at best suggested, voices are seldom even raised. His brother William, the philosopher, pleaded with him: "Why won't you sit down and write a book with no twilight or mustiness in the plot, with great vigor and decisiveness in the action, no fencing...

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