Edel, Leon


Edel, Leon
▪ 1998

      American biographer and critic (b. Sept. 9, 1907, Pittsburgh, Pa.—d. Sept. 5, 1997, Honolulu, Hawaii), established a reputation as the first and foremost authority on the life and works of American novelist Henry James. Edel was reared in Canada and earned (1928) a master's degree from McGill University, Montreal. He had entered the university at the age of 16, and it was there that his interest in James was sparked. Edel attended the University of Paris on a scholarship and was awarded a doctorate (1932) for his dissertation on James's years as a playwright. In Paris he met American author Edith Wharton, a close friend of James's, who provided him with information that gave him a scholarly advantage over later Jamesian biographers and ultimately a deeper insight into how his subject's personality related to his art. After returning to Montreal, he taught (1932-34) English at Sir George Williams University, but he soon returned to Europe, where he worked as a freelance writer in London and Paris and pursued research on James until serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1949 he published The Complete Plays of Henry James, and the following year he joined the faculty at New York University. In 1963 he won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for the second and third volumes (Henry James: The Conquest of London, 1870-1881 and Henry James: The Middle Years, 1882-1895, both published in 1962) of a five-volume definitive James biography, completed in 1972. Edel was named Henry James professor of English and American letters in 1966. Besides teaching during the 1970s at the University of Hawaii, he lectured in later years. Edel's four-volume Henry James Letters (1974-84), while not exhaustive, served to round out James's biography. He also completed critical biographies of two other literary figures, Willa Cather and Henry David Thoreau, and edited the papers and diaries of influential critic Edmund Wilson.

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▪ American critic and biographer
in full  Joseph Leon Edel 
born September 9, 1907, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
died September 5, 1997, Honolulu, Hawaii

      American literary critic and biographer, who was the foremost 20th-century authority on the life and works of Henry James (James, Henry).

      Edel grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, and graduated from McGill University (B.A., 1927; M.A., 1928). He received a doctorate of letters from the University of Paris (1932). In Paris he met American author Edith Wharton (Wharton, Edith), a close friend of James's, who provided him with information that gave him a scholarly advantage over later biographers and ultimately a deeper insight into how his subject's personality related to his art. Edel taught English for two years in Montreal, but he soon returned to Paris and pursued research on James. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1947. In 1949 he published a complete edition of James's plays, and the following year he joined the faculty of New York University (1950–72; thereafter professor emeritus). In 1963 he won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for the second and third volumes (Henry James: The Conquest of London, 1870–1883 and Henry James: The Middle Years, 1882–1895, both published in 1962) of a definitive five-volume biography completed in 1972. He edited The Complete Tales of Henry James, 12 vol. (1963–65), and Henry James Letters, 4 vol. (1974–84). In addition to teaching at the University of Hawaii (1972–78), Edel lectured in later years.

      He also completed critical biographies of Willa Cather (Willa Cather: A Critical Biography [1953, reissued 1987; written with E.K. Brown]) and Henry David Thoreau (Henry D. Thoreau [1970]) and edited the papers and diaries of critic Edmund Wilson. His reflections on his craft are published in Literary Biography, rev. ed. (1975), taken from a series of lectures (1957) at the University of Toronto, and Writing Lives: Principia Biographica (1984, reissued 1989).

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Universalium. 2010.

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