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.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 2 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 3 Robert Mugabe eats a zoo for 'obscene' 91st birthday party
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 The jihadi girls who went to Syria weren't just radicalised by Isis — they were groomed
Alien 5: Sigourney Weaver will reprise Ripley role in new movie, says director Neill Blomkamp
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
EastEnders may bring transgender character to Albert Square to challenge 'traditional' viewers
James Bond: Director Sam Mendes teases clips from upcoming 007 film Spectre
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'