Friday, August 24, 2012

Henry James, beset by ladies!

Having spent last weekend reading, with great pleasure, Colm Toibin's astonishingly good novel of Henry James, The Master, and looking forward to getting a copy of Michael Gorra's brand-new book, Portrait of a Novel, about James and the writing of The Portrait of a Lady, tonight I'll simply share one of the countless entertaining anecdotes from Simon Nowell-Smith's 1948 volume of recollections of James, The Legend of the Master. This one comes from Elizabeth Robins and seems to date to the early 1890s:
There was a general impression that Mr. James was much beset by the attention of ladies. One story dates fromt he days when domestic electric lighting was not yet fully under control. The first of the great London establishments to install the new luxury was, if I remember, Grosvenor House. At the subsequent evening party when the scene was at its most brilliant, suddenly the lights went out. As suddenly they came on, to discover--so the story went--thirteen ladies clinging to Mr. James.
Henry, one presumes, was discomfited but polite. William, on the other hand, would surely have been visibly delighted.


  1. Thirteen would seem to be mobbing, not clinging. But a nice story anyway. I couldn't read Toibin myself but enjoyed the other Henry James novel published the same year, the one by David Lodge.

  2. I read the Toibin on the recommendation of a friend and was pleasantly surprised at how convinced (and engaged) I was. I should go read Lodge's book, too, as I like his writing. You probably know the story of his book coming out merely five months after Toibin's had been published to widespread, rapturous acclaim. He wrote about it for the Guardian, and his anxiety as he grappled with proofs as Toibin's publication date arrived; he later wrote a whole book about the experience, The Year of Henry James. I just remember feeling so sorry for his bad timing.

  3. Yes, I read The Year of Henry James as well, a fascinating look at the inner workings of the publishing world, and at the same time very personal. Lodge sent me into a brief James obsession - I can also recommend Lyndall Gordon's A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art.

  4. VoilĂ , serendipity: Toibin on Gorra's book -