The Art of Living Inward: Henry James on Rupert Brooke

Hazel Hutchison

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Few sites in the field of literary biography have been so hotly contested as the biography of Rupert Brooke. Within days of his death from blood poisoning on a troop ship in the Aegean, he had been praised by Winston Churchill and wistfully mourned in national newspapers and literary journals. Meanwhile, a battle was brewing between his mother and Edward Marsh, his friend and literary executor, for control over his letters and papers. Brooke was held up by many as a national example of patriotism and as the idealization of youth, while others insisted that he was simply a flawed but talented young man. Things are much the same today. Brooke’s poem “The Soldier” is still read at Armistice Day services and is regularly taught at schools and universities as a fine example of sonnet form. In other camps, however, his poetry is lambasted as nationalistic, emotionally naïve, and conservative in form. So much has been projected onto the memory of this young man that he has become a potent symbol of a particular moment and set of values. Like it or loathe it, he has come to stand for “Englishness”—or at least the particular brand of English nostalgia that was in vogue in the opening stages of the First World War. Many of Brooke’s friends and colleagues protested his appropriation as an icon of establishment values. But cultural momentum was at work. The sheer number of tributes and appreciations written in the weeks after Brooke’s death demonstrates how keen the British were to find a representative figure on which to focus their grief in April 1915 and in the months that followed.
Among these appreciations is an essay by Henry James, in the form of a preface to Rupert Brooke’s Letters from America. This is a striking combination of names to find on the flyleaf of a book, so it is intriguing that this essay is not much discussed by scholars either of James or Brooke.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-143
Number of pages12
JournalThe Henry James review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


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