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Group Portrait: A Biographical Study of Writers in Community, by Nicholas Delbanco. New York: William Morrow & Co. 224 pp. $11.50.

This engaging book - the first nonfiction effort of veteran novelist Delbanco - examines the enclave more or less formed by five major writers: Henry James, Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford, and Stephen Crane. They lived close to one another in 1900 in Sussex, on the southeastern coast of England, and shared a various, volatile literary and personal interdependence. A chapter on Crane considers the effects on his colleagues of the young genius's death at 29; this is followed by an analysis of the several literary collaborations of Conrad and Ford, then a charting of the aesthetic disagreements between James and Wells.

Delbanco doesn't convince us that his Sussex grouping was an artistic community like Bloomsbury, or Paris in the '20s, but the intimacies and conflicts he highlights prove both intriguing and enlightening.

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