Henry James: The Imagination of Genius: A Biography

Henry James: The Imagination of Genius: A Biography

by Fred Kaplan

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Similar in its emotional complexity and cunning insights to James's own novels, this remarkably vivid biography offers a nuanced portrait of the author as an ambivalent Victorian, a voluntary expatriate who paid the price for his independence in lonelliness and alienation. As portrayed here, James (1843-1916) took ``the feminine role in his sexual identity, his social life, and his fiction.'' Generally repressing his homoerotic desires--though he fell in love with numerous men--James was haunted by the fear that his renunciation of sexuality had kept him from experiencing life's depths . Kaplan, biographer of Dickens and Carlyle and professor of English at Queens College in New York City, illuminates the psychodynamics of James's troubled family: his father, an energetic handicapped philosopher, starved himself to death; Alice, the novelist's mentally ill sister, looked to brothers William and Henry as husband substitutes. Kaplan persuasively shows how James projected his inner conflicts and obsession with repressed sexuality onto his fictional characters. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Biographer Kaplan ( Dickens: A Biography , LJ 9/1/88; Thomas Carlyle: A Biography , LJ 11/15/83) brings us a lucid and vibrant account of the novelist's creative imagination as well as his renowned personal life. Concentrating on the genesis and inspiration for James's creative output, Kaplan for the most part avoids strict literary criticism that would slow down the fast-moving pace of the biography. He relies almost exclusively on the letters and diaries of James and his associates to convey both James's spirit and the background for his work. Though not as all-encompassing as Leon Edel's five-volume opus ( Henry James , 1953-72), this volume is a highly recommended alternative to the one-volume condensation, Henry James: A Life ( LJ 10/15/85) and a good companion to the biographical study of the James family by R.W.B. Lewis ( The Jameses: A Family Narrative, LJ 8/1/91). See The Correspondence of William James . Vol . 1: William and Henry, 1861-1884 reviewed above.--Ed.-- Martin R. Kalfatovic, Natl. Museum of American Art/Natl. Portrait Gallery Lib., Smithsonian Inst., Washington, D.C.
Brad Hooper
Certainly hagiography is not called for here, nor is it offered. This life of American expatriate novelist Henry James, the author of such masterpieces as "The Portrait of a Lady" (1881) and "The Golden Bowl" (1904), balances trenchant appreciation of James as both an interesting character in his own right and a sublime creator of fictional ones, with objective estimation of his passive persona and how it evolved that way. He was the son of a provocative father, who, in his attempt to give his children freedom of thought and movement, actually restricted their emotional growth. Young Henry learned early to avoid his difficult father by retiring into himself, where he stayed all his life; in that place, he could evade his sexuality, but also from there he mined a body of cerebral writing that places him in the front rank of American literature. Kaplan, professor of English, works into this biographical narrative his fresh evaluations of that distinguished art. A highly accessible book that should renew readership in the man many of his contemporaries referred to simply as "The Master."
Kaplan's biographies (of Thomas Carlyle in 1983, and Dickens, 1988) have earned him critical praise. This one-volume portrait of James introduces new information based on research among the 12,000 unpublished letters by James and members of his family, presenting new insight into the writer whose life and work formed a bridge between the Victorian and the modern worlds, and between European and American culture. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Subtle, complex, elusive Henry James—a writer who saw life as a history of changing perceptions and changing masks—demands all the formidable scholarly skills and narrative art that Kaplan demonstrated in his biographies of two other monumental 19th- century figures, Charles Dickens (1988) and Thomas Carlyle (1983). More intimate than Leon Edel's magisterial Henry James (1985), this version of the novelist's life is implicitly Freudian: Flawed (a sexually nonfunctioning, hypochondriacal stammerer) but talented, James compensated through his art for his personal failings, seeking (and luckily finding) love, fame, wealth, and power through publication—though at great personal cost. After a rootless childhood, a random education, and a bewildering set of religious beliefs derived from his father, James spent his life travelling for his health and his fiction. He moved repeatedly from New York to London, Paris, Switzerland, Rome, and Venice, avoiding intimate connections, the lure of young men especially, and inventing himself as a writer among the writers he met: William Morris, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Stephen Crane, Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton—to whom, in a memorable scene here, James reads Walt Whitman's poetry. Known to his family as the "angel in the house," sentimental and emotional toward his male friends (at least in letters), James was rigid and artificial in public, his accent and manners an odd combination of the European culture he admired and the American values he claimed to believe in. Intensely private and self-controlled, his life was a quest for refinement and nuance, undermined by his own excess, the afflictions of his "bowels and hisback," and his immense hungers. Kaplan has a fine sense of scene: James trying to drown the dresses of a deceased friend, or looking at himself in the mirror. And it's as a mirror—a very Jamesian one, with its center of consciousness and unobtrusive narrator—that this fine and readable biography functions. (Twenty-four pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
6.71(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.97(d)

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