Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
Henry James (1843-1916) has had many biographers but Michael Gorra has taken an original approach to this great American progenitor of the modern novel, combining elements of biography, criticism and travelogue in re-creating the dramatic backstory of James's masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady (1881). Gorra shows how this scandalous story came to be written. Travelling to Italy, France and England, he sheds new light on James's family, the European literary circles of George Eliot, Flaubert and Turgenev in which James made his name, and the psychological forces that enabled him to create the most memorable female protagonist. A piercing detective story, Portrait of a Novel provides a brilliant account of the greatest American novel of expatriate life ever written.
Michael Gorra has...created a book that is an adventure from beginning to end.... There are places... where Gorra gets so close to the making of Portrait of a Lady, he actually crosses over from literary history into the interior of James's consciousness. The interior world that Gorra imagines, and that we come to inhabit, is so plausible, so true to life, that his Portrait of a Novel becomes a novel--a masterpiece of critical imagination. --Alice Kaplan
Michael Gorra teaches English at Smith College and is the author of, among other works, After Empire, The Bells in Their Silence. He edited the Norton Critical Edition of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.