Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr.

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Henry James, Sr.'s children included William, the psychologist and philosopher; Henry Jr., the novelist; and Alice, author of a noted diary. What kind of father stood behind his epochally brilliant, original, energetic, and often troubled progeny? A noted writer himself, whose friends included the leading American thinkers of his time, James was a passionate, contradictory character. Alfred Habegger's The Father is the first biography that attempts to capture the bewildering complexities of the James father's public and private history - his early engagement with a radically deviant Calvinism, his stunning embrace of both authoritarian and democratic systems of ruling, his rich humanity and comic gifts, and his dealings with the most interesting people of his time. Henry Sr. had a headlong drivenness that took on a maniacal edge following his loss of a leg in adolescence, and as a father he turned the full force of what he was on his children.

He was the father of William--the psychologist and philosopher; Henry Jr.--the novelist; and Alice--author of a noted diary. A noted writer whose friends included famous thinkers, Henry James was a passionate and contradictiory character. This first in-depth biography captures the complexities of the father of such remarkable and often-troubled figures. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

American Scholar
Habegger counters the popular view — a view,moreover,that the James family perpetuated — that Henry James,Sr.,was a 'benignant' man who devoted himself to the good of his children,preached tolerance,and practiced self-effacement. Instead,he shows us a man who developed a convoluted personal philosophy to account for his own feelings of pain and guilt,his conviction of his essential sinfulness and capacity for evil,and his fragile sense of self. He was egotistical,intolerant,hot-tempered,but never less than earnest and brutally honest in his quest for truth and enlightenment. 'Henry James was wonderful,but he was hard to bear,' one critic noted in a burst of generosity. Readers of this fine biography will likely agree.
New York Review of Books
The Father is as much a study of nineteenth-century religious aspirations as the life of an eccentric and interesting man. And of course its title tells what else it is: a close examination of the background of two extraordinary sons. As well as throwing a flood of light on their development,it is a rare case study of something we ought to know more about: how families work.... Habegger always balances judgment with sympathy,as well as scholarliness with intuition; all in all,not just an addition to Jamesiana here,but an immensely searching study.
New Yorker
An improbably delightful biography of the father of William and Henry and Alice James; it is composed with a wry detachment that is perhaps the biographer's only means of protecting himself from the shade of his subject,who would retort from the grave if he could.
Washington Post
A welcome combination of candor and painstaking research.... Most biographers have given us Henry James,Sr.,at home,at the head of his brilliant family. Habegger gives us a different sense of the man in the broader intellectual and cultural context of his age.... We are in Habegger's debt not only for filling in our knowledge of James and his age,but also,perhaps,for quietly and forcefully reminding us once more of what a long foreground some of our current social dilemmas — concerning education and intellectual freedom,sexuality and the family — have had.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
James (1811-1882) was the father of five children, including William, the psychologist and philosopher; Henry Jr., the novelist; and Alice, a diarist. To his contemporaries, he was ``Absolute James,'' a passionate and outspoken religious and philosophical writer. In this eloquent and imposing book Habegger (Henry James and the ``Woman Business'') gives protracted attention to James's writings on the utopian doctrines of Fourier and the abstruse mysticism of Swedenborg. The general reader will find some of this heavy going; more intriguing is the analysis of James's contradictory parenting. Seeking the appropriate education for William, he moved the family all over Europe and America; he felt only William was ``cut out for intellectual labors'' and neglected his other children. The son whose novels would be celebrated for their psychological nuance spent one miserable year attempting to master accounting. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Habegger (Henry James and the "Woman Business," Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1989) finds the father of psychologist-philosopher William James and novelist Henry James Jr. a challenging subject for a comprehensive new biography. Habegger skillfully elucidates many of the contradictory energies within this radical intellectual. Born into a wealthy Scottish Irish Presbyterian family in Albany, James never held formal jobs but devoted his life to lecturing, writing, and debating the most troubling social, religious, and intellectual issues of the day. Habegger chronicles James's mental collapse and conversion to the Christian mysticism of Emanuel Swedenborg. "Hermetic, self-justifying, endlessly creating the world in his image, James clearly resembled the god he was imagining," he concludes. James's boundless zeal and economic clout ensured the bizarre, haphazard education received by his sons. For comprehensive collections.-J. Thorndike, Lakeland Coll., Sheboygan, Wis.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558493315
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2001
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 600
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.53 (d)

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