Austria, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland and the United States
Henry James and Burgess Noakes: The Evolution of an Employer/Servant Relationship during World War I
In the summer of 2014, there appeared at auction two unpublished and unstudied letters to Henry James from his young valet, Burgess Noakes. These letters were entirely appropriate for the historical moment, as they detailed Noakes’s deployment to and time at the front during the early months of World War I, which had occurred almost exactly one hundred years earlier than the time of their auction. In our archives at the Center for Henry James Studies, we hold copies of nine letters James wrote back to Noakes during the short time the young soldier was at the front. Taken together, the duo’s epistolary back-and-forth from late 1914 through 1915 lets us not only glimpse the day-to-day life of an active-duty soldier at the front of the Great War, but it also illustrates the complicated evolution of Noakes’s and James’s relationship, a relationship that until now has had no critical interest to James scholars.
In 1901 Burgess Noakes had formally joined James’s household as a houseboy and then, later, valet. During the next decade, Noakes became a regular character in the cast of Lamb House and Carlyle Mansions. James mentions him frequently in his letters, notebook, and datebook, all revealing a somewhat straightforward relationship, but one that often bordered on parent/child. In his famous 1904 letter to Louise Horstmann,1 outlining the workings of Lamb House, James describes Noakes as “gentle, punctual and desirous to please”; dozens of other James letters from these years describe Noakes similarly,...
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