Monday, November 14, 2011

AUTHOR, AUTHOR by David Lodge

I'm not a huge fan of Henry James, but David Lodge does a fair job of channeling him in this somewhat fictionalized bio, written in a formal, Jamesian style. It focuses mainly on two aspects of James's life—his failed attempts as a playwright and his friendship with George Du Maurier, a more successful but less gifted writer. James struggled between good will toward his friend and jealousy of Du Maurier's popularity. He could never have imagined that The Portrait of a Lady and The Wings of the Dove would be made into major motion pictures later in the twentieth century. Lodge characterizes James as a celibate homosexual, married to his art, who never realized commercial success during his lifetime. On the other hand, although Du Maurier created the character Svengali whose name has entered the lexicon, his work has not stood the test of time, but his granddaughter Daphne's has. There are several other well-known writers of the period, including Edith Wharton, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and H.G. Wells, who peripherally figure into James' life. It was especially interesting to me, though, that Du Maurier's grandchildren by his daughter Sylvia were the boys who inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan. Also, James's agent's daughter married Rudyard Kipling. What a small, interconnected, and talented world Henry James inhabited.

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