cover image Henry James: The Mature Master

Henry James: The Mature Master

Sheldon M. Novick, . . Random, $35 (616pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45023-8

This second and final volume (after Henry James: The Young Master ) of Novick's epic James biography covers the period beginning immediately following the 1881 publication of The Portrait of a Lady and ends with James's extended final illness and death in 1916. In between, James's personal and literary life is exhaustively chronicled in a meticulous fashion. Novick's goal is to show James as an “active, passionate, engaged” man of his time, rather than as the repressed, passive man of literary myth, and he achieves this goal resoundingly by allowing the reader access to James on almost a daily level, often through his frequent letters to friends and family. Novick's first volume caused a small stir through its elucidation of James's romantic feelings toward Oliver Wendell Holmes, and this conclusion offers a similar opinion of his “romantic friendship” with the poet Arthur Benson. Despite the occasional dramatic flareups, however, including the recounting of a literary rivalry with Oscar Wilde and James's pledge of loyalty to the king of England during WWI, the book is most concerned with the day-to-day politics and publishing practices of James's lifetime, and any reader interested in the master's political development or prolific working methods would do well to turn to this definitive work. (Nov. 13)