Portrait of a Novel

Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2012. c.384p. index. ISBN 9780871404084. $29.95. LIT
Every portrait has a subject and a background. In this work, Gorra (English, Smith Coll.; After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie) not only provides the expected creation story behind Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady but also scrutinizes James's life, the state of the novel in the late 19th century, and literary history as it influenced and was influenced by Portrait. This novel was a turning point for both James's career and the novel form itself, and Gorra incisively tracks its repercussions throughout fiction. In addition—like Michael Anesko in Monopolizing the Master—Gorra literally follows in James's footsteps by visiting the same places as the master and inserting himself as a character into the background of his portrait.
VERDICT Gorra's detailed yet expansive examination of all factors relating to the creation and import of James's masterpiece makes this obligatory reading for James fans and scholars, though Gorra assumes a familiarity with other period writers that some James readers—such as the many college students assigned to read Portrait each year—may not have. Strongly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 1/30/12.]
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