The attempts that I have made to read Henry James have been unrewarding. I was therefore amused to read Virginia Woolf’s opinion in a letter to Lytton Strachey:
Please tell me what you find in Henry James. I have disabused Leonard of him; but we have his works here, and I read, and can’t find anything but faintly tinged rose water, urbane and sleek, but vulgar. . . Is there really any sense in it? I admit I can’t be bothered to snuff out his meaning when it’s very obscure.
Woolf went on to write numerous essays on the fiction of Henry James. In her later Guardian review of James’ final novel, The Golden Bowl (1905) Woolf wrote,
Mr. James is like an artist who, with sure knowledge of anatomy, paints every bone and muscle in the human frame; the portrait would be greater as a work of art if he were content to say less and suggest more . . . Many overburdened sentences could be quoted as proof of his curious sense of duty.
Better put than I am able, but Woolf’s views accord with my own reading of Henry James.