The Open Door

The Open Door

5.0 1
by Elizabeth Maguire
     
 

“The story is the journey, not the destination. Or so the philosopher’s say. But this is my story, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end….”

The Open Door is a luminous and profoundly moving novel inspired by the life of Constance Fenimore Woolson, one of the most widely-read and respected American authors of the nineteenth century.

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Overview

“The story is the journey, not the destination. Or so the philosopher’s say. But this is my story, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end….”

The Open Door is a luminous and profoundly moving novel inspired by the life of Constance Fenimore Woolson, one of the most widely-read and respected American authors of the nineteenth century. Exploring themes of passion, life, death, friendship, and art, the novel is a vivid evocation of the complex forces behind literary creation.

After years of supporting her mother and a hapless brother through her writing, Constance finds herself in early middle age “hungry, ravenous to see and live as much as possible.” She sails for Europe with a letter of introduction to Henry James, the writer she admires above all others. Constance is intoxicated by Europe, Italy in particular, and she and James eventually meet in Florence. James is delighted by this highly intelligent, independent woman (whom he dubs “Fenimore” as a sign of his esteem) and makes her his confidante. For her part, Constance finds with James “the unequalled joy of never running out of things to say.”

Constance’s courageous, open nature is odds with James’s more secretive one and inevitably leads to friction, transgression, and revenge both private and public. Elegantly conceived and life-affirming, The Open Door is an unforgettable portrait of a remarkable woman who lived with passion and refused to accept the narrowing of her world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Magill Book Reviews

“A remarkable book.”

Richard Brookhiser

“The Open Door gives juicy (imaginary) gossip about the WASPocracy of the late-nineteenth century—Henry and Alice James, Clarence King. But its real subjects, presented with clarity and force, are friendship, freedom, and meeting "the distinguished thing."

Publishers Weekly

The former publisher of Basic Books, Maguire published her first novel, Thinner, Blonder, Whiter, in 2002; she had completed this second novel when she died of cancer in 2006. Pitch perfect from start to finish, the book is couched as the memoir of once-popular writer Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894): a manuscript left behind at her death to counter her image as "a long-suffering, martyred spinster." At its center is the vibrant, intriguing relationship between Woolson and Henry James, whom she meets in Paris in 1879. James calls her Fenimore (she's the niece of The Last of the Mohicans author James Fenimore Cooper), and she calls him Harry; theirs was, Woolson says, "[a] marriage not of bodies, but of minds." The stuff of conventional memoir is judiciously tucked in (Woolson's travels; her encroaching deafness; James's sister, Alice, and his circle), but with an immediacy, embodiment and frankness 19th-century memoir almost always lacks. Through Maguire's elegant pen, Woolson, a writer who was often pigeonholed as a mere verbal colorist, gets to establish her significance to James: "Whenever Harry left he always took something from me, a little piece of my own imagination." Maguire's vivid depiction of those complex exchanges is utterly absorbing.

Publishers Weekly

The former publisher of Basic Books, Maguire published her first novel, Thinner, Blonder, Whiter, in 2002; she had completed this second novel when she died of cancer in 2006. Pitch perfect from start to finish, the book is couched as the memoir of once-popular writer Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894): a manuscript left behind at her death to counter her image as "a long-suffering, martyred spinster." At its center is the vibrant, intriguing relationship between Woolson and Henry James, whom she meets in Paris in 1879. James calls her Fenimore (she's the niece of The Last of the Mohicansauthor James Fenimore Cooper), and she calls him Harry; theirs was, Woolson says, "[a] marriage not of bodies, but of minds." The stuff of conventional memoir is judiciously tucked in (Woolson's travels; her encroaching deafness; James's sister, Alice, and his circle), but with an immediacy, embodiment and frankness 19th-century memoir almost always lacks. Through Maguire's elegant pen, Woolson, a writer who was often pigeonholed as a mere verbal colorist, gets to establish her significance to James: "Whenever Harry left he always took something from me, a little piece of my own imagination." Maguire's vivid depiction of those complex exchanges is utterly absorbing. (June)

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Kirkus Reviews
The life of Victorian writer Constance Fenimore Woolson inspires a novel of artistic friendship, and conflict, with Henry James. This second novel from publisher Maguire (Thinner, Blonder, Whiter, 2002), who died in 2006, is a fictional autobiography, narrated by James Fenimore Cooper's great-niece Connie, an opinionated woman liberated at age 39, after her mother's death, to pursue her writing and her obsession to meet Henry James. Proto-feminist and confirmed spinster Connie, the premier "regional lady writer," yearns for equality with male geniuses. Traveling to Europe, she finally meets James in Florence and a close friendship is quickly forged. James (or Harry, as she calls him) emerges less impressively than expected-a giggler, with doughy fingers, who finds in Fenimore (as he calls her) a confidante. Although their friendship is temporarily ruptured after she makes reference to his homosexuality and he publishes a disparaging article about her work, it is later restored and he proposes a marriage of convenience, which she rejects. The novel suggests that history misrepresented Connie as Harry's seducer, when all she sought was literary companionship. In these pages she emerges as smarter and more successful, but she's not quite convincing when she calls herself Salieri to James's Mozart. Full-blooded Connie, who suffered episodes of intense head pain, which was eventually diagnosed as a brain tumor, committed suicide in Venice in 1894. A small episode in literary history becomes a feisty but self-justifying and vaguely melancholy tale. Agent: Betsy Lerner/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590512838
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
06/10/2008
Pages:
248
Sales rank:
1,223,413
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.85(d)

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