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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 Feni Woolson, Who Died In , Echoed His Mysterious Relationship With Minnie Temple, Who Died Twenty Years Earlier


10 thoughts on “A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women & His Art

  1. says:

    It s an interesting angle from which to write a biography, focusing not just on James himself but two women who, Gordon argues, were the sources of forms of femininity to which his fiction returns repeatedly I d never read anything about James s life before and was struck by how limited he was or allowed himself to be, especially in the face of his books, so astute as they are in their understanding of inner lives, their acute emotional intelligence Yet his treatment of his cousin Minny Temple, especially, is so cold, ignoring or pretending to ignore her desperate desire to travel to Europe despite her illness The transformation of Milly into Jamesian heroines Daisy Miller, Isabel Archer, Milly Theale is well known The second woman Gordon focuses on is Constance Feni Woolson, a novelist in her own right and friend of James s later years The connections here are looser, oblique, even less convincing.Overall, this gave me an insight into James but the Woolson connection isn t the most illuminating though it s interesting to see how a female American novelist fares in the later nineteenth century There s too much storytelling of the relevant James novels and stories, not enough analysis Do we really get to grips here with the secrets of James s inner life I don t think so.


  2. says:

    In A Private Life of Henry James , Lyndall Gordon attempts to excavate the submerged world of Henry James imagination and his relationship with the most important women in his life The analysis concentrates on James cousin Minny Temple, whose early death haunted James, and Constance Feni Woolson, his friend and fellow writer, whose suicide deeply effected him Gordon shows with numerous detailed examples the process by which James transformed his experiences and relationships into high art The thrust of the book can be discerned from this passage, which shows how James transformative process, resulting in the story The Altar of the Dead , began to lay the groundwork for his late masterpiece, The Wings of the Dove The vision of Mary Antrim a character in the story stirred the idea for a full scale portrait of a dying girl A young creature on the threshold of a life that has seemed boundless, is suddenly condemned to death , he jotted, by the voice of a physician Like Minny, the young woman is in love with life, her dreams of it have been immense, and she clings to it with a passion, with supplication Waiting all this time was the unused passion in Minny s dream To spell out thee biographical sources limits the leap James took in the autumn of 1894, so that, by the end of The Altar of the Dead , he stood on the brink of his major phase James insisted that it was by the treatment rather than the source that works of art should be judged The aesthetic achievements that lay ahead came with his power to transform his subject The writer s art removes the act of memory to a realm of its own which re creates Mary Temple as a winged angel and Constance Woolson as a figure of grief Their purity is distilled from the disturbing contexts of actual deaths, they are conjoined as tutelary forms, guides to transcendence, no longer women as we understand the word, like the concentrated essence Alice felt herself to be as she approached death This book provides a full and richly analysis of many of James short stories and key novels, analysis illuminated by a well documented examination of James life.


  3. says:

    The full title of this 1998 biography is A Private Life of Henry James Two women and his art It is not one biography, but three, and focuses on the intersections social, emotional and imaginative between the writer and the women James met his cousin Mary Minnie Temple when he was still a young man, and was immediately taken by her bold, capacious approach towards life Later, already an established writer, he met Constance Feni Woolsoon, or rather she met him, for she journeyed to Rome after reading his fiction, hoping to find a common spirit and a willing mentor.In adopting this biographical approach, Gordon makes no bones about what she is doing In the sphere of art, she aims to elevate the women, in particular Woolson, from mere muses or handmaidens to actual collaborators in James s fiction She does not mean that Woolson helped write James s works Rather, the stories that Woolson wrote elicited a conversation with James who replied in his own stories In explaining so convincingly the exchange in fiction between the two writers, Gordon wishes to demolish the myth of the self sufficient artist working in creative solitude, a myth of himself first started by James, and sustained by his destruction of letters and papers before he died.In the sphere of life, or human relations, Gordon depicts James as a predator of souls, especially women s souls, which he took as his artistic material and kingdom James in this portrait emerges as a ruthless artist who cared supremely for his art He would draw close to usable women in order to extract their stories, only to withdraw from them when their human demands impinged on his art Minnie Temple was dying, but thought that a visit to Rome might help her recover James, along with other family members who claimed to love her, ignored her desperate pleas because such a visit was not on his agenda.Even damning was his behavior towards Woolson The two were so close that they shared a house, Villa Brichieri, in Bellosguardo, for a time, risking exposure and scandal But James did not provide the friendship or mentoring Woolson longed for Given an opportunity to promote his friend, James wrote an essay that damned her with faint and limited praise He did not come to her at her hour of need and she killed herself by jumping from the balcony of her house Gordon shows that the suicide not only shocked James but angered him, for Woolson s action demonstrated that he did not understand women s souls the way he claimed he did Bewildered, James put out the story that Woolson killed herself in a moment of insanity In a thrilling section of the book, Gordon examined closely the reports of Woolson s last night, and concluded that, contrary to James s fantasy, Woolson took her own life with deliberate intention.James was highly conscious of what he was doing This awareness was dramatized, again and again, in his fiction Gordon puts it this way, in the final paragraphs of her reparative biography In Jamesian dramas of contrition, a man uses a single woman, May, Maria, or Milly, for his own ends then recoils from usage of this kind And yet, James himself continued to use two women as the material of art It is consistent with the Lesson of the Master that art, of necessity, preys on others This is the questionable point where James the man meets James the writer He drew women out as no other man, exposing needs that lurk unexpressed on the evolutionary frontier and then swerved from responsibility Feni took a calculated risk when she made a home in his work His involvements were for readers, for posterity, and only in passing for subjects whose need for reciprocity remained active For this reason, he was in his element with those who died.Jamesian heroes of the major phase often excoriate themselves relentlessly than evidence against them might seem to justify Their own sole detractors, they gape at their flaw the oblivion of the sensitive gentleman Of course, only a person of the calibre of James would have the moral courage to confront it.Here is a fictional truth James offered in lieu of biography He is right, of course, to urge the autonomy of art, were it not for one problem, a myth of solitary genius That myth, it must now be apparent, is largely untrue For James leant on the generosity of women who surrendered the Light of their Lives Feeling, breathing women who provided the original matter for Milly and Miss Gostrey were disappointed in untold ways not unconnected with their deaths It is on behalf of these women that biography must redress the record James controlled.Beware, beware, of falling for a writer.


  4. says:

    A thorough and well written, if a bit dry, bio of the great American writer who proved to be less than a likeable human being when it came to his ability to relate to others.


  5. says:

    I totally enjoyed this book, which tells the story of two lesser know yet significant relationships in his life and how they influenced his art It also goes into the other influences and places him in the context of other writers of his time as well as before and after It read like a novel and took me away to the time and place of his life I m looking forward to reading books by Lyndall Gordon.


  6. says:

    I knew nothing of Henry James and this was a decently interesting biography and literary criticism of his work Read this before reading any of his novels It argues that he derived a lot of his characters and their desires from the women in his life.


  7. says:

    Although Gordon s style is a bit of a struggle to read, the actual content of this biography is really interesting I was especially fascinated with the discussion of the novelist Constance Feni Woolson and I ll definitely be reading some of her work.


  8. says:

    Art, intimacy, renunciation Practically a bio of Constance Feni Woolson, whose work it inspires me to read.