Michael Gorra, who once upon a time in the Seventies published two fanzines named Banshee and Random, has now reached the apex of a career as a Professor of English at Smith College, distinguished by his critical biography Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece.
One of the many pleasures of Michael Gorra’s book is that he too has loved this novel since he studied it in college, and wants to share his passion for it. He has also taught it for many years, at Smith College, and he has written the kind of patient, sensitive, acute study that gifted teachers should write but rarely do. Portrait of a Novel is effectively a new biography of James, with The Portrait of a Lady at its centre. Gorra describes the entire arc of James’s life, unobtrusively (this is made possible by the fact that James wrote it as a youngish man, and rewrote it, in 1906, as an oldish man); but he does so in order to tell the story of the novel – both as a critic and as a biographer.
Earlier investigations by Gorra yielded a study of the postcolonial novel, After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie (1997) and The Bells in Their Silence: Travels through Germany (2004). He has edited volumes of The Portable Conrad and the Norton Critical Edition of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. He received the Balakian award from the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001 for his work as a reviewer
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]