A Beast in the Jungle

David Leavitt in The New York Times:

James “Henry James: The Mature Master” by Sheldon M. Novick strives to supplant the common view of James as “a passive, fearful man, a detached observer of the life around him” with one of the writer as a gregarious, sometimes heroic, often troubled citizen of the world. Far from a sniffy celibate living comfortably on independent means or a “little boy with his nose pressed against the glass of a shop window,” Novick’s James was an authentic cosmopolite who led a life as emotionally, sexually and financially complex as those of the characters in his fiction.

Does Novick succeed in giving us a new, more “ordinary,” less cerebral Henry James? The answer, for better or worse, is yes. Indeed, the life that he describes (“The Mature Master” begins with the successful 1881 publication of “The Portrait of a Lady” and ends with James’s death in 1916) is one that, for any urban writer, will seem eerily, even tiresomely familiar. Passionately devoted to his craft, James is also burdened by the constant pressure to make money. He suffers from back pain and constipation, and often feels overwhelmed by the amount of writing he has to do: in addition to the novels, many of them published in serial form, there are the short stories, travel articles, reviews and “potboilers” from which he earns his living, not to mention the correspondence with which he feels dutybound to keep up.

More here.