Portrait of a Novel

Michael Gorra teaches English at Smith College and is the author of, among other works, After Empire, The Bells in Their Silence. He edited the Norton Critical Edition of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

A Liveright book.

Portrait of a Novel
Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
Michael Gorra

Henry James (1843-1916) has had many biographers but Michael Gorra has taken an original approach to this great American progenitor of the modern novel, combining elements of biography, criticism and travelogue in re-creating the dramatic backstory of James’s masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady (1881).
       Gorra shows how this scandalous story came to be written. Travelling to Italy, France and England, he sheds new light on James’s family, the European literary circles of George Eliot, Flaubert and Turgenev in which James made his name, and the psychological forces that enabled him to create the most memorable female protagonist. A piercing detective story, Portrait of a Novel provides a brilliant account of the greatest American novel of expatriate life ever written.

"...nobody to my knowledge has written more perceptively about The Portrait of a Lady. Gorra's reading of the novel is consistently revealing...Portrait of a Novel is not only instructive and a pleasure to read, but (as Gorra doubtless intended) it also sends us back to James with a deeper appreciation for his literary technique..."
The Sunday Times

"It is a tribute to his [Gorra's] book that he makes us feel the life, of the book and its characters and its author, so deeply. He earns the right to end with James's wonderful words, "There really is too much to say"."
Hermione Lee, The Guardian

"...he [Gorra] has written the kind of patient, sensitive, acute study that gifted teachers should write but rarely do."
London Review of Books

"Michael Gorra...has pulled off an astounding feat...in this impressive study...Gorra goes anywhere that strikes his fancy, and the result is splendid: a book to reread in years to come, a model for what criticism can do when happily married to biography."
Literary Review

"...Gorra's marvellous portrait of Portrait..."
Sarah Churchwell, New Statesman

"Michael Gorra's Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece is literary criticism at its most lucid and engaging, as it shows James embarking on his great work and displays Gorra, filled with enthusiasm and insight, as the book's most ideal and intelligent reader."
Colm Tóibín, Books of the Year 2012, The Guardian

"His [Gorra's] thoughtful commentary makes us remember just how good the novel is: fresh and sophisticated at once, lucidly intelligent, vividly alive."
Times Higher Education

"For anyone who enjoys the relationship between reader and page and for whom re-reading is a home or an addiction, for lovers of Henry James, for enthusiasts of American thought and culture, for outsiders, for insiders, for anyone remotely interested by or afraid of the human heart, Portrait Of A Novel: Henry James And The Making Of An American Masterpiece by Michael Gorra is a richly rewarding book."
Candia McWilliam, The Books of 2012, The Glasgow Herald

"Blending biography, history, travelogue and review essay, Gorra opens up James's classic novel with elegance, nuance and grace..."
Sarah Churchwell, The Critics: Books of the Year 2012, New Statesman

"He [Gorra] charts the development of Isabel Archer, the novel's central character, via James's journeys to Europe, in a book that feels as though Gorra has obtained a special Skype link to James's writing."
Tom Cox, Christmas Books 2012, The Sunday Times

"... Portrait of a Novel is a pleasure to read and feels as if it has been a pleasure to its author."
The Times Literary Supplement

"Gorra's admiration for one of James's most beloved works makes this slightly novelistic study irresistible."
Eileen Battersby, Books of the Year 2012, The Irish Times

"... a lucid critique ... He [Gorra] has written a fitting tribute to a novel that continues to be of paramount importance in Anglo-American literature."
J.P. O'Malley, The Spectator

"For readers already familiar with The Portrait, this study will throw a wholly new light upon what had seemed well-known territory, while those who have not read James’s book will be bound to fall upon it with unbounded anticipation. With Gorra as guide, they will not be disappointed."
The Irish Times

"Incisive, informative and hugely entertaining... nobody to my knowledge has written more perceptively about the novel itself. Gorra's reading of it is consistently revealing."
Francine Prose, The Sunday Times

"At literary festivals throughout the country, readers always ask writers how they write. This books tells us, but never was demystification such an enjoyable and inspiring experience."
The Independent

"Gorra brilliantly elucidates how, between its first publication and the New York Edition, The Portrait of a Lady, 'like a person, had grown up whilst remaining in essence the same'."
Times Higher Education

"This is a great book. Anyone interested in Henry James or American literature will really like this superbly written and documented book."

"Gorra's knowledge on James is encyclopedic; he is never boring... the result is a marvelous book that is a joy to read."
Cerise Press

Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

September 2012 • £20.00 • ISBN 978 0 87140 408 4 • 384pp • 156 x 235mm • 10 illustrations
cart Add to basket

August 2013 • Paper • £12.99 • ISBN 978 0 87140 670 5 • 416pp • 140 x 210mm • 10 illustrations
cart Add to basket