A Bundle of Letters

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

A Bundle of Letters first appeared in The Parisian in December 1879. This was an English language magazine produced for a readership of expatriate English and Americans living in Europe. The tale was immediately pirated in the USA, not just once, but twice. It first appeared in legitimate book form along with The Diary of a Man of Fifty published by Harper in New York, 1880. James wrote the tale in a continuous creative burst of only two days whilst he was staying in Paris.

A Bundle of Letters

A Bundle of Letters

A Bundle of Letters – critical commentary

This tale is fairly rare in James’s oeuvre in being entirely composed of letters. There is very little attempt to create a narrative or to generate any development of character or plot. James’s approach is something like a mixture of Tobias Smollett and Jane Austen. His characters are writing back home to friends and relatives, recounting their experiences of staying in a Parisian boarding house. The one joke which is sustained throughout the letters is that the characters have come there to live amidst a French family so as to improve their fluency in the language – but they are surrounded by non-French speakers all doing the same thing.

The individual correspondents make self-satirising revelations of themselves – the gushingly enthusiastic aesthete (Louis Leverett); the slightly over-confident New Woman (Miranda Hope) – many of which could be said to be aspects of James’ own character, exaggerated for effect. English and American tourists are staying with a family in Paris to learn the language, but where it seems they spend most of their time talking to each other.

The tale is also connected thematically to the later tale The Point of View where the character Louis Leverett turns up again, along with characters from another earlier story, The Pension Beaurepas. In the later tale they are returning to America on a transatlantic steamer, and there is a similar entertainment offered in their various and contrasting reactions to American society.

A Bundle of Letters – study resources

A Bundle of Letters The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

A Bundle of Letters The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

A Bundle of Letters Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon UK

A Bundle of Letters Complete Stories 1874—1884 – Library of America – Amazon US

A Bundle of Letters A Bundle of Letters – Classic Reprint edition

A Bundle of Letters A Bundle of Letters – Kindle edition

A Bundle of Letters Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition

A Bundle of Letters A Bundle of Letters – eBook formats at Gutenberg

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Henry James Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

Henry James Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources

A Bundle of Letters – plot summary

Miranda Hope is a naive but ardent American feminist who believes in democratic values and is amazed to find European women prepared to tolerate old-fashioned male dominance. She is travelling without a chaperone, and moves to the private boarding house in order to practice her French – but it turns out to be inhabited by other Americans, English, and a German professor.

New Yorkers Violet Ray and her mother end up in the same venue for similar reasons. So does a Bostonian aesthete Louis Leverett who is a name-dropping poseur. All of them write back home to their compatriots, criticising the other guests in the boarding house.

Miranda Hope feels miffed that she cannot establish any contact with the haughty New Yorker Violet Ray, but she is very impressed by Louis Leverett. She also gives an unknowingly satirical account of English arrogance in her descriptions of the English guest Evelyn Vane.

A Bundle of LettersEvelyn herself writes letters packed with vacuous cliches which confirm her as a conventional upper class snob. Meanwhile, the proprietor’s cousin Mr Verdier lives there amongst them free of charge in exchange for making conversation with the guests. His letters to a friend are full of pompous and smutty innuendo concerning his flirtations with the ladies in the house.

The German professor indulges in large scale quasi-philosophic generalisations about the French, American, and English national character – all dressed up in laboured abstract language. Whilst the other characters display petty human weaknesses and vanity, the German professor’s remarks display a rather disturbing picture of what he sees as racial superiority.

There is no real story line or development of any real kind. The letters stop when Miranda Hope suddenly decides to move on to another European country.

Henry James portrait

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant

Principal characters
Miranda Hope an ardent feminist and democrat from Maine, New England
Madame de Maisonrouge proprietress of the boarding house
Miss Violet Ray a society girl from New York city
Louis Leverett a small Bostonian aesthete
Evelyn Vane an upper-class young English woman
Mr Verdier the landlady’s cousin, a vain sponger
Dr Rudolph Staub a self-important German professor

Henry James's Study

Henry James’s study

Further reading


Red button Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Red button F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.

Red button Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.

Red button Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.

Red button Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.

Red button Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

Red button F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Critical commentary

Red button Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.

Red button Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.

Red button Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.

Red button Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Red button Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.

Red button J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.

Red button Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.

Red button Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

Red button Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976

Red button Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.

Red button Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.

Red button Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Red button Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Red button Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009

Red button John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Red button Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Red button Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Red button Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Red button Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.

Other works by Henry James

Henry James The BostoniansThe Bostonians (1886) is a novel about the early feminist movement. The heroine Verena Tarrant is an ‘inspirational speaker’ who is taken under the wing of Olive Chancellor, a man-hating suffragette and radical feminist. Trying to pull her in the opposite direction is Basil Ransom, a vigorous young man to whom Verena becomes more and more attracted. The dramatic contest to possess her is played out with some witty and often rather sardonic touches, and as usual James keeps the reader guessing about the outcome until the very last page.

The Bostonians Buy the book at Amazon UK
The Bostonians Buy the book at Amazon US


Henry James The AmbassadorsThe Ambassadors (1903) Lambert Strether is sent from America to Paris to recall Chadwick Newsome, a young man who is reported to be compromising himself by an entanglement with a wicked woman. However, Strether’s mission fails when he is seduced by the social pleasures of the European capital, and he takes Newsome’s side. So a second ambassador is dispatched in the form of the more determined Sarah Pocock. She delivers an ultimatum which is resisted by the two young men, but then an accident reveals unpleasant truths to Strether, who is faced by a test of loyalty between old Europe and the new USA. This edition presents the latest scholarship on James and includes an introduction, notes, selected criticism, a text summary and a chronology of James’s life and times.

The Ambassadors Buy the book at Amazon UK
The Ambassadors Buy the book at Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2013

Henry James – web links

Henry James  web links Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.

Henry James web links The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at Amazon.co.uk. The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.

Henry James web links The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

Red button A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.

Henry James web links The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.

Henry James web links Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.

Henry James web links Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.

Henry James web links The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Henry James web links The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.

Henry James web links Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.

Henry James web links Henry James on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of James’s novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production features, film reviews, box office, and even quizzes.

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