W W Norton £11.88
Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, By Michael Gorra - Paperbacks of the Year review
Sunday 08 December 2013
I wish I could give this sublime marrying of the art and the life 10 stars. This is very much a writer’s biography, and an absolutely gorgeous demonstration of how to frame a narrative begins, appropriately enough, with the framing by Gorra of the author, Henry James: “Many years later he would remember the way the book had begun. He was old then, and in England ....” It’s a description that mirrors beautifully the framing by James himself of the entrance of his great heroine, Isabel Archer, in The Portrait of a Lady, as “the girl in the doorway”.
Isabel was painted “in a doorway” poised as she was, like James, between the “old” world of Europe and the “new” world of America. James was the bridge between the Victorianism of George Eliot and the Modernism of T S Eliot, and Gorra charts the progress of this novel as James created the psychological novel, experimented with what his brother, the psychologist William James, would come to call “stream of consciousness”, used European locations such as London, Florence, and Rome to critique an old world order and, finally, brought us to understand what real evil could be. Not so much the destruction of a personality but the manipulation of it for one’s own ends.
Gorra is a delightful guide through James’s world, tracing the American’s steps in Florence, looking over the Arno from the point that James did, or mounting the stairs of his home in Rye. His investigations never detract attention from his subject, but he permits the admittance that he sheds tears at Isabel’s final scene with the dying Ralph. At literary festivals throughout the country, readers always ask writers how they write. This books tells us, but never was demystification such an enjoyable and inspiring experience.
Arts & Ents blogs
Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch 'first sexy Holmes', says Mark Gatiss
Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Jared Leto: Best Supporting Actor Oscar sparks backlash from transgender community
Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi struggles financially despite Oscar nomination
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 4 Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it