LEON EDEL Biography - Writers


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Joseph Leon Edel (9 September 1907 - 5 September 1997) was a North American             
literary critic and biographer. He was the elder brother of North American               
philosopher Abraham Edel.                                                               
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he grew up in Saskatchewan. Edel attended             
McGill University and the Université de Paris. While at the former he co-founded       
the influential McGill Fortnightly Review. Edel taught English and American             
literature at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University, 1932-1934),     
New York University (1966-1972), and at University of Hawaii at Manoa (1972-1978).       
Though he wrote on James Joyce (James Joyce: The Last Journey, 1947) and on the         
Bloomsbury group, his lifework is summed up in his five-volume biography of             
Henry James (Henry James: A Biography 1953-1972), which epitomizes biography as         
a literary form, a subject he had discussed in Literary Biography (1957), and           
enfolds a subjective author's self-perceptions into his literary output. Edel's         
second and third volumes of the James biography earned him a Pulitzer Prize and         
a National Book Award in 1963.                                                           
The discovery of impassioned but inconclusive letters written in 1875–1876 by         
James to the Russian aristocrat Paul Zhukovski, while Edel was deep in the               
process of finishing his biography caused an ethical crisis; his decision was to         
continue to ignore what he considered a peripheral aspect of the self-identified         
"celibate" and sexually diffident James's life. Edel did treat James's                   
relationships with novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson and sculptor Hendrik             
Christian Andersen at length, especially in volumes three and four of the               
biography. After weighing all the evidence, Edel confessed that he was unable to         
decide whether James experienced a consummated sexual relationship. Although             
later scholarship and new materials have called into question the accuracy of           
his portrait of James, Edel's work remains an important source for studies of           
the author.                                                                             
"A biography seems irrelevant if it doesn't discover the overlap between what           
the individual did and the life that made this possible. Without discovering             
that, you have shapeless happenings and gossip."  Leon Edel