Reviews for Henry James, a life

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

This thoroughly successful condensation of Edel's massive five-volume biography incorporates new material on James' youth, and also has been revised to be more forthcoming about his sexual dilemma. The modish new veneer of psychological speculation (Why was James celibate? How serious were his early flirtations? Did he love Minnie Temple best after she was safely dead?) is tactfully applied. But Edel is still an old fashioned biographer at heart and this one-volume abridgement is still a broad-canvas work, designed to render a portrait of an era and a family as well as of a complex individual. Edel begins with James' ancestors, offering a particularly absorbing account of the novelist's father, with the spiritual doubts and physical struggles (Henry Sr. was an amputee) that shaped him. Among Edel's stronger achievements is the complex rendering of the relationship between Henry, Jr. and his elder brother William, reared as twins despite an age difference of 16 months: each brother knew he was destined for greatness--and each strove mightily to get there first. Among Edel's most intriguing speculations is that the brilliant but ruthless Dr. Sloper in Washington Square was ""yet another"" of Henry's portraits of his energetic, medically-trained, often caustic brother--and that the view of Sloper is critical because William James had just ""betrayed"" Henry by getting married. A few of the readings of James' life into his novels seem unnecessarily literal, but on the whole, the references to James' works are just as interesting as the facts that emerge about his life. Indeed, to learn that Henry was called ""Angel"" by his relatives is enough to transform anyone's sense both of his life and his art! The condensation is seamless and smooth, and the three-dimensional solidity of the Henry James who emerges makes this an extraordinary achievement, sure to appeal to a broader audience than the fuller but more intimidating five-volume version. Copyright ŠKirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
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Even as fascinating a subject as Henry James's life is more inviting in one vol ume than in five, and the wealth of de tail and incident in Edel's new one-vol ume abridgement of his multi-volume biography gives no sense of omission. Edel's revision and tightening are skill ful, particularly in the condensed dis cussion of the James family and the ex panded commentary on Henry James's personal relations and celibacy. James wrote that ``Art makes life, makes in terest, makes importance.'' Edel's re telling of James's life does not ``make'' his subjects art, but it contributes inter est and informed analysis of the place of James's novels and stories in his life. : Highly recommended. Cristanne Miller, English Dept., Pomona Coll., Claremont, Cal. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly
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More than a deft abridgment of Edel's classic, prize-winning five-volume James biography, this is an updated, partially rewritten version of it. Inclusive of new source material and without some of the ``reticences'' regarding James's passional life, it is essentially a new book. Into the outer story of James's lifethe early American years; the ``passionate pilgrimages'' to France and Italy; the friendships with many of Europe's preeminent writers, Flaubert, Zola, Turgenev, R. L. Stevenson, Kipling, Conrad and H. G. Wells among them; the disastrous failure in the theater; and the horror of World War IEdel weaves with perfect literary tact the inner story, that of the developing mind of a writer he calls the first of the psychological novelists and America's ``one fully achieved literary artist,'' together with sensitive analyses of the novels. We see this most active contemplative, most subtle observer of human emotion, most dedicated pursuer of his craft in his imaginative workshop; and Edel indeed catches, to quote one of his innumerable telling phrases, something of ``the radiance of his powerful artistry.'' Illustrations. November 13 (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved