Hot on the heels of Colm Tóibín’s The Master (p. 297), another novel about Henry James’s later years.
Though Lodge (Thinks…, 2001, etc.) is best known for his satirical fiction, his tone here is generally serious, opening with James’s deathbed scene in 1915. Then a shift to the early 1880s finds the writer walking in London with his close friend, Punch illustrator George Du Maurier, while James is at his midcareer peak. Daisy Miller, Washington Square, and Portrait of a Lady have made him “the coming man of the literary novel. . . [while] his elegant, cosmopolitan essays appeared in the most prestigious reviews. Hostesses competed for his presence.” But as the narrative moves through the late ’80s and ’90s, sticking close to the facts but with convincing forays into the writer’s thoughts, we see more elaborate novels like The Princess Casamassina slightly diminishing James’ reputation, while an ill-advised five-year excursion into playwriting climaxes with the disastrous 1895 premiere of Guy Domville. James struggles not to feel jealous of Du Maurier’s huge success with the novel Trilby, but that’s hard for a man who has consciously dedicated his entire life to his art. The 1894 suicide of James’s other close friend, American popular novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, who may have been in love with him, leads James to fear that his obsession with the perfectly crafted sentence has dried up his heart. On the contrary, Lodge’s warmly sympathetic portrait quietly asserts, James’s grappling with envy and despair in this very human manner led to his final masterpieces, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl. Though the pace here is almost as stately as in those late novels, the effect is powerfully emotional as the book closes with the writer’s last moments and an authorial interpolation by Lodge expressing his love for James the artist—and the man.
A must for Jamesians, with a storyline sturdy enough to draw in the unconverted as well.