A Private Life of Henry James

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9780099386117: A Private Life of Henry James

Lyndall Gordon investigates the writer's relations with two remarkable women who were close to him, and traces their effect and influence in his work. Both these women haunted James, his elusive friendship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, who died in 1894, echoed his mysterious relationship with Minnie Temple, who died twenty years earlier.

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Review:

Biography is one of the tastes of the age, but it is rare to read a biography that is as gripping as a novel. Happily, Lyndall Gordon's account of the life of Henry James provides an exception to this rule. Gordon takes us to the heart of James's emotional life by detailing his relationships with two extraordinary women with whom he was particularly close. First was James's cousin, Mary Temple, a brilliant young woman whose death of tuberculosis in 1870 at the age of 24 profoundly affected James. The second woman was Constance Fenimore Woolson, a minor novelist whom James befriended in his middle years, and who ended her own life (it seems) by throwing herself out of an upstairs window in Venice in 1894.

James acted secretively and strangely about his relationships with both these women (the book opens with the striking scene of James being rowed into the deepest part of the Venetian lagoon to drown all Fenimore Woolson's dresses shortly after her death--why would he do such a thing, we wonder?); and Gordon's biography is an attempt to unravel what these two relationships meant to James--a highly civilised man, shy and rather repressed about his homosexuality. As Gordon says, by focusing on what it is that James tried to "screen" from the world, we discover a "more compelling and dangerous character, as well as a new reading of the major novels."

Gordon is always scholarly, and never surrenders her writing to sensationalising or caricature. Yet she is never less than gripping, with each of the main characters analysed in a sensitive and rounded manner, and the mystery at the heart of the relationships explored without being crassly exploded. And, best of all, Gordon writes superbly--this is probably the most beautifully written biography I have ever read, and the elegant, poised sentences go some way to capturing the subtle complexities of its themes. It is a piece of writing worthy of "the Master" himself. --Adam Roberts

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Gordon, Lyndall
Published by Vintage Uk (1999)
ISBN 10: 0099386119 ISBN 13: 9780099386117
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Gordon, Lyndall
Published by Vintage Uk (1999)
ISBN 10: 0099386119 ISBN 13: 9780099386117
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
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Irish Booksellers
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Book Description Vintage Uk, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 99386119

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