The mauve life and times of Edmund Gosse glow warmly in these letters, delightful to even the most casual reader, engrossing to one with an interest in the distinguished correspondents or in the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras.
An obscure figure today to all but literary connoisseurs, Gosse was, in his day, a near giant in both England and the United States. Max Beerbohm, that discriminating man, in a mural of prominent figures who were also his friends, sketched Edmund Gosse large among George Bernard Shaw, John Masefield, G. K. Chesterton, John Galsworthy, and Lytton Strachey.
This volume consists primarily of a selection of the letters exchanged between Gosse and a number of American writers, notably William Dean Howells, Edmund Clarence Stedman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Richard Watson Gilder, Edith Wharton, and Henry James. The letters, most of them previously unpublished, contain much of biographical and general historical interest, but the main theme of the book is the exploration of Anglo-American literary relations during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth.
The letters that passed between Gosse and Stedman provide valuable evidence for the study of literary taste on the two sides of the Atlantic and also show how each man sought to enhance the other's transatlantic reputation; the correspondence between Gosse and Gilder, particularly during the period when Gosse was London editor of Gilder's Century magazine, is especially revealing of cultural attitudes and antagonisms. A central thread is provided by the warm and long-sustained friendship between Gosse and Howells, the leading American man of letters of his day.
The long introduction to the book deals with such topics as Gosse's American reputation, his immensely successful visit to the United States in the winter of 1884–1885 (based on the manuscript diary that Gosse kept during the visit), and his American friendships, with particular attention to the relationship with Howells. The thoroughness and vitality of the annotation are extremely effective in familiarizing the reader with the people and events in the book.