“The real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humour or irony pitched in exactly the same key,” wrote Edith Wharton in her memoir A Backward Glance, “I have had good friends between whom and myself that bond was lacking, but they were never really intimate friends; and in that sense Henry James was perhaps the most intimate friend I ever had.” That sense of humor is clearly evident in his gift to Wharton of Harry Graham’s Misrepresentative Women. With its beautiful cover and clever illustrations, it’s a favorite of visitors to the library.
Harry Graham (1874-1936) was an English poet, best-known for his light verse. Misrepresentative Women contains poems about various women ranging from Eve (“Unselfish,—that one can’t dispute,/ Recalling her intense delight,/ When she acquired some novel fruit,/ In giving all her friends a bite”) to the then-popular writer Marie Corelli (“Were she to mingle with her ink/ A little milk of human kindness,/ She would not join, I dare to think,/ To chronic social color-blindness/ An outlook bigoted and narrow/ As that of some provincial sparrow.”). It was a follow up to two of his previous books: Misrepresentative Men and More Misrepresentative Men.
But Wharton and James’ shared sense of humor is not just in the choice of book. Inscribed inside, James has written “To a much misrepresented woman from the largest of her admirers.” Henry James has an imposing reputation. In his own lifetime he was nicknamed “The Master” and Wharton was often seen as his disciple. Here, in a few brief words, he pokes fun at himself, praises Wharton, and suggests what their relationship truly was: not master and disciple, but friends.