Henry James by Sheldon M. Novick
The Mature Master

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Synopsis

The New York Times compared Sheldon M. Novick’s Henry James: The Young Master to “a movie of James’s life, as it unfolds, moment to moment, lending the book a powerful immediacy.” Now, in Henry James: The Mature Master, Novick completes his super, revelatory two-volume account of one of the world’s most gifted and least understood authors, and of a vanished world of aristocrats and commoners.

Using hundreds of letters only recently made available and taking a fresh look at primary materials, Novick reveals a man utterly unlike the passive, repressed, and privileged observer painted by other biographers. Henry James is seen anew, as a passionate and engaged man of his times, driven to achieve greatness and fame, drawn to the company of other men, able to write with sensitivity about women as he shared their experiences of love and family responsibility.

James, age thirty-eight as the volume begins, basking in the success of his first major novel, The Portrait of a Lady, is a literary lion in danger of being submerged by celebrity. As his finances ebb and flow he turns to the more lucrative world of the stage–with far more success than he has generally been credited with. Ironically, while struggling to excel in the theatre, James writes such prose masterpieces as The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl.

Through an astonishingly prolific life, James still finds time for profound friendships and intense rivalries. Henry James: The Mature Master features vivid new portraits of James’s famous peers, including Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Louis Stevenson; his close and loving siblings Alice and William; and the many compelling young men, among them Hugh Walpole and Howard Sturgis, with whom James exchanges professions of love and among whom he thrives. We see a master converting the materials of an active life into great art.

Here, too, as one century ends and another begins, is James’s participation in the public events of his native America and adopted England. As the still-feudal European world is shaken by democracy and as America sees itself endangered by a wave of Jewish and Italian immigrants, a troubled James wrestles with his own racial prejudices and his desire for justice. With the coming of world war all other considerations are set aside, and James enlists in the cause of civilization, leaving his greatest final works unwritten.

Hailed as a genius and a warm and charitable man–and derided by enemies as false, effeminate, and self-infatuated–Henry James emerges here as a major and complex figure, a determined and ambitious artist who was planning a new novel even on his deathbed. In Henry James: The Mature Master, he is at last seen in full; along with its predecessor volume, this book is bound to become the definitive biography.
 

About Sheldon M. Novick

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Sheldon M. Novick is the author of Henry James: The Mature Master, Henry James: The Young Master and Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and is the editor of The Collected Works of Justice Holmes. He is Adjunct Professor of Law and History at Vermont Law School, and lives in Norwich, Vermont.
 
Published November 13, 2007 by Random House. 640 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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This sequel to Henry James: The Young Master (1996, etc.) chronicles, in numbingly Jamesian detail, the expatriate writer’s attempt, in his social life and his work, to create a venue for “large & confident action—splendid & supreme creation.” Novick (Law and History/Vermont Law School) follows t...

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Kirkus Reviews

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for perpetuating the notion that James ``retreated from the terrors of heterosexual rivalry into a world of delicate imagination.'' However, even though Novick's assumption that James was homosexual seems plausible given the latter's aversion to marriage and intense attachment to young men, the b...

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The New York Times

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''He felt a sharp and unbearable idea staring at him, like something alive and fierce and predatory in the air, whispering to him that he had preferred her dead rather than alive, that he had known what to do with her once life was taken from her, but he had denied her when she asked him gently f...

Jun 20 2004 | Read Full Review of Henry James: The Mature Master

The New York Times

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David Lodge declared 2004 to have been “The Year of Henry James.” This was because 2004 saw the publication of two major “biographical” novels about James — “The Master,” by Colm Toibin, and Lodge’s own “Author, Author” — as well as a novel by Alan Hollinghurst, “The Line of Beauty,” in which the...

Dec 23 2007 | Read Full Review of Henry James: The Mature Master

The New York Review of Books

Novick called the first half of his biography of Henry James, going up to 1881 and the publication of The Portrait of a Lady, The Young Master, a term whose resonances he seemed not quite to hear: Did James not struggle for mastery, by a prolonged, unresting process of discovery, or was Master, l...

Feb 14 2008 | Read Full Review of Henry James: The Mature Master

Book Forum

When Novick says in his prologue that James wrote "frank love letters" to Hendrik Andersen and adds soon afterward that James's "only indisputable love letters were written to men," the reader who knows these letters is entitled to feel that Novick's reading skills are not subtle.

May 25 2015 | Read Full Review of Henry James: The Mature Master

Project MUSE

And, although Tóibín's essay takes us through to James's last New York story, he also uses James to warn that the critic's word is not conclusion: "Nothing is my last word about anything—I am interminably supersubtle and analytic" (NY).

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Indeed, the remarkable "digestibility" of James is reflected in the wealth of screen adaptations recorded in Horne's own lively screen history of James.

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The position Novick adopts here, that James's letters and tales suggest he was "a man at ease with sexuality in general" (13), reprises the reductive approach to James's sexuality taken in Novick's recent biography: "it has seemed most reasonable to assume that when [James] seemed to be having a ...

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With The Young Master, I see no point in wasting anyone's time by demonstrating once again that Novick has no evidence for his strange and improbable claim that in the spring of 1865, both in Cambridge and in his parents' home in Boston, James "performed his first acts of love" (109)--physical, s...

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Griffin, editor of the Henry James Review and author and editor of a number of works on Henry James.

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