On Henry James


These days, the rumblings of the James industry are louder than those of the Hawthorne industry, the Hemingway industry and even—mirabile dictu!—the Faulkner industry. But only the bulk of the industry’s output, if not its spirit or letter, is registered on ground level. V.S. Naipaul, for example, has remained deaf to the claims of the post-revival Jamesians, dismissing James on the ground that he “never went out in the world…ever risked anything…ever exposed himself to anything…ever thought he should mingle with the crowd.” But to the figure usually identified as “that mythical creature, ‘the Common Reader,’” James has become a solidly major figure, one of a handful of Big Names, as Michael Gorra’s thorough, level-headed new book, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, suggests. A scholarly (or fanatical) love letter, it reads like a biography of Portrait of a Lady—its gestation, development, reception—or perhaps a well-researched novel about Henry James that favors the early period, where Lodge and others favored the late.

more from Leo Robson at The Nation here.