Colm Tóibín on Henry James

Beha-Henry-James-320Colm Tóibín at Bookforum:

In Washington Square, Henry James created a great bullying father who sought to control his daughter's destiny and prevent what he saw as a foolish marriage. In viewing his daughter as dull, Dr. Sloper missed what the reader of the novel began to see—Catherine Sloper was not merely sensitive but also deep, even passionate. Thus the book dramatized a matter that concerned James profoundly in both his life and his art—control and dominance within his own family and then within the families that he began to imagine during his long career as a novelist.

Henry James's brother William wrote that the novelist was “a native of the James family, and has no other country.” During their childhood and adolescence, the James children were taken back and forth across the Atlantic by their restless and wealthy father. They got to know France and England, but they barely felt at home in America. Because their father had no profession, he spent his time watching over his five children. By the time Henry was in his twenties, he was desperate to get away to Europe. His early letters show him depending on his parents for money and guidance, and using illness as a further excuse to stay away, but also to get sympathy and attention. He was deeply involved with his family for all of his life, but the relationship, like many of the relationships in his fiction, was ambivalent. James also treasured his own solitude, his own apartness and autonomy.

more here.