Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece

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W. W. Norton & Company, Aug 27, 2012 - Literary Criticism - 416 pages
2 Reviews

A revelatory biography of the American master as told through the lens of his greatest novel.

Henry James (1843–1916) has had many biographers, but Michael Gorra has taken an original approach to this great American progenitor of the modern novel, combining elements of biography, criticism, and travelogue in re-creating the dramatic backstory of James’s masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady (1881). Gorra, an eminent literary critic, shows how this novel—the scandalous story of the expatriate American heiress Isabel Archer—came to be written in the first place. Traveling to Florence, Rome, Paris, and England, Gorra sheds new light on James’s family, the European literary circles—George Eliot, Flaubert, Turgenev—in which James made his name, and the psychological forces that enabled him to create this most memorable of female protagonists. Appealing to readers of Menand’s The Metaphysical Club and McCullough’s The Greater Journey, Portrait of a Novel provides a brilliant account of the greatest American novel of expatriate life ever written. It becomes a piercing detective story on its own.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - JEB5 - LibraryThing

To begin my review, I did receive this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. That said, this was a gem of a study of Henry James' life and his novel, "Portrait of a Lady". Michael Gorra begins with James ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - NancyKay_Shapiro - LibraryThing

For James fans, a must-read. Fascinating, well-told, so pleasurable and informative about the writers' life and process, and ways of reading the novel itself. Read full review


An Old Man in
A Native of No Country
A Superstitious Valuation
Along the Thames
Her EmptyChair
An Unmarried
The Envelope of Circumstances
The Magazines
The Roccanera
The Art of Fiction
Working in the Dark
The Second Chance


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About the author (2012)

Michael Gorra teaches English at Smith College. His books include After Empire, The Bells in Their Silence, and, as editor, the Norton Critical Edition of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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