cover image Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist

Anne Boyd Rioux. Norton, $32.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-393-24509-7

In this thoughtful retelling of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s life, Rioux, a professor of English at the University of New Orleans and president of the Woolson Society, seeks to bring the “lady novelist” out of the shadow of her great friend Henry James. Woolson had already published a short story collection, when, in 1880, she met James, who later used her as a model for characters in his fiction. Born in 1840 to a distinguished family—her mother’s family founded Cooperstown, N.Y., and her granduncle was the novelist James Fenimore Cooper—Woolson was a bookish, serious, observant child. Haunted by financial insecurity and depression as an adult, she led a peripatetic life in the U.S. and Europe, eventually settling down in Venice. All the while, Woolson sought to find a balance between society’s expectations for women and her own creative fire and drive, a dichotomy she never reconciled completely. Her lonely, ambiguous death at the age of 53—falling from the window of her Venetian palazzo, in an apparent suicide—is perhaps the most vivid reminder of the painful choices she had to make. Her work merits reexamination, and Rioux has brought to life an unjustly forgotten writer. [em](Feb.) [/em]