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Mesteren : roman (2004)

af Colm Tóibín

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Biografisk romanportrt̆ af den geniale amerikanske forfatter Henry James fra hans fr̜ste skuespils premiere - og fiasko - i London 1885.
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Viser 1-5 af 91 (næste | vis alle)
Read this twice, more or less by accident. A good piece of bio-fiction for those not immersed in James, otherwise I would recommend instead the Leon Edel biography, James' letters or for a one volume wonder, [b:Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece|13812161|Portrait of a Novel Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece|Michael Gorra|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344800567s/13812161.jpg|19446630] ( )
  lschiff | Sep 24, 2023 |
Around the turn of the twentieth century, two famous brothers, Henry and William James, converse in Henry’s seaside home in Rye, East Sussex. William, philosopher, psychologist, and lecturer (in public life and private), says, “Harry, I find I have to read innumerable sentences you now write twice over to see what they could possibly mean. In this crowded and hurried reading age you will remain unread and neglected as long as you continue to indulge in this style and these subjects.”

Even — especially — as an admirer of Henry James, I have to laugh. I used to share William’s criticism of his brother's prose, as probably many readers do today. But in this biographical novel of an author perhaps more closely attuned to social nuance and unspoken truth than any other of English expression, James’s world opens up with impressive clarity, poignancy, and depth. You see how the master thinks, observes, derives his fictions, absorbs tragedy and setbacks and — always tentatively — ventures beyond himself, almost invariably to retreat.

Consequently, The Master delivers the story of how a writer’s mind works, the stuff that anyone who writes will recognize — the bits of life that beg to be set down, impatience for tiresome guests to depart so that you can get to work, the pains of failure, the glories when a reader picks up your work for the first time and tells you how much she likes it. (Notice how long my sentences are getting; be it known that Toíbín’s aren’t, for he hasn’t tried to write James, only about him.)

But there’s much more, for Toíbín focuses on how a man who observes so keenly often remains an observer, and why. James’s fear of emotional entrapment conveys a figure who feels constantly under siege, though he might not say so. He worries that the world he knows is fast disappearing.

There’s little plot in The Master, yet there’s much activity, all laden with meaning. As the novel begins in 1895, Henry tries to circumvent his anxieties about the first performance of his play in London by attending a nearby theater showing Oscar Wilde’s comic drama, An Ideal Husband.

James, who could be a prig, finds Wilde’s work completely vulgar and resents his success, more so after his own play fails miserably. But months later, when Wilde sues his lover’s father for slander over accusations of homosexuality, James takes a renewed interest in Wilde. It’s not schadenfreude but the first intimation that James has homosexual attractions and desires he’s never acted on.

Throughout, Toíbín handles that theme with the delicacy befitting his protagonist. How sad that this man, whose instincts are kindly and sensitive, who has many friends who clamor for his company, who understands children and easily befriends them, suppresses the longing that might have made him happier. Granted, no one’s more keenly aware of societal disapproval and pressure than Henry James, yet you sense that tact and discretion might have permitted more leeway than he allows himself.

But Toíbín also reveals Henry’s less attractive facets, such as his selfish refusal to help a couple dear friends in dire need. Or, earlier in his life, how his parents somehow decide the Civil War has nothing to do with him—startling, considering that the Jameses are staunch New England abolitionists, as are their friends. Two of Henry’s brothers enlist and serve as officers in a famous Black regiment; one is grievously wounded.

Those failures point to how his parents have arranged Henry’s life for him (and William’s, to some extent), though it’s Henry who never escapes that confinement.

The Master may not be for everybody. But you don’t have to be a fan of Henry James to appreciate its breadth and poignancy. ( )
  Novelhistorian | Jan 26, 2023 |
I read this after finishing The Portrait of A Lady, and in addition to being a great read, it helped me understand that novel. ( )
  sblock | Dec 5, 2022 |
This is a fictionalized account of the life and social world of Henry James. It is, as far as I can tell, quite faithful to the general facts of his life, his family relations, and his social world. It evokes his interior experience and connects the events to the stories/novels he was writing at the time. I am not very familiar with James, and I believe I would have gotten a lot more out of this if I had read more James before rading this. Nevertheless, it is very good. ( )
  brianstagner | Nov 1, 2022 |
Beautifully written novel about a segment of the life of author Henry James (1843 – 1916). It is set in 1895 to 1899, looking back on key episodes and people in his life. We gain a perspective on his family, particularly his relationship with his parents, older brother William, and younger sister Alice. We look at James’ disappointment in the theater, his relationship with close friend Constance Fenimore Woolson, and interactions with sculptor Hendrik Christian Andersen. Several other prominent people of the era make a cameo appearance, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Oscar Wilde. It flashes back to his early life in the US, desire to become a writer, education, avoidance of service in the American Civil War (two of his brothers fought for the Union), and relocation to England.

It is a deeply drawn imaginative psychological character study, which provides the reader with insight into James’ personality. It is based on extensive research. What struck me immediately is his reclusiveness, and desire for solitude related to having time to read and write. He enjoyed friendships with a small number of people but retreated when it felt too intimate. What is left between the lines is his romantic inclinations, implying he was closeted. It follows Henry James as he journeys to sites in Ireland, US, UK, France, and Italy.

The novel is written in a looping style, where we revisit earlier scenes from a slightly different perspective. The writing style is artistic and elegant. The tone is quiet and contemplative. It is written in a style that pays homage to “the master,” and has a 19th century feel to it.

It is not necessary to be familiar with James’ body of work but helps to know at least something about him. If you have read even a few of James’ books, you will notice Tóibín’s use of the same subtle and probing technique that James employed. I now want to read more from both James and Tóibín. Recommended to those interested in Henry James and his literature (or literary fiction in general). I loved it.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
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''The Master'' is sure to be greatly admired by James devotees; just as surely it will strike less ardent readers as the kind of book in which not much actually happens.
 
Whatever Toibin's literary-critical and ideological interest in James, ''The Master'' is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist -- one who has for the past decade been writing excellent novels about people cut off from their feelings or families or both.
 

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Biografisk romanportrt̆ af den geniale amerikanske forfatter Henry James fra hans fr̜ste skuespils premiere - og fiasko - i London 1885.

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Skildring af fem år i den amerikanske forfatter Henry James' liv og de kræfter der var med til at forme hans kunst i 1890'ernes London, hvor han bevægede sig fra fiasko til be-rømt romanforfatter
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