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

Michael Gorra (Author)


Finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award: Biography
One of the Best Books of 2012: The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, The Millions, Kirkus Reviews, Boston Phoenix

A revelatory biography of the American master as told through the lens of his greatest novel.

Product Details

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publish Date
August 27, 2012
6.5 X 1.5 X 9.3 inches | 1.6 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

The author of Portrait of Novel, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Michael Gorra is the Mary Augusta Jordan Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College and the editor of the Norton Critical Editions of As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.


One of the many merits of Alan Ryan's monumental new history of political philosophy is that it restores our enthusiasm for politics.... Mr Ryan's historical approach helps us at the very least to look at our problems from new angles, and at best to harness the help of history's sharpest minds in producing policies.... an impressive achievement: an enjoyable mental workout and an admirable monument to a lifetime of academic toil.
The author's encyclopedic understanding of not only James, but also his influences and contemporaries, offers a thoroughly illustrated and appropriately tumultuous picture of fiction's awkward adolescence between stilted Victorianism and modernistic messiness. The reader does not have to love or even be particularly familiar with James's work to enjoy this book; this is as much a story about the creative process itself, or the function of genius, as it is about any particular product.--Nicholas Mancusi, Daily Beast
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.--James Wood
A new and interesting approach to writing about Henry James... Although an academic, Michael Gorra does not write like one...[An] excellent book.--Joseph Epstein
Marvellous... James's sensibility suffuses [Gorra's] language, creating a book that feels not unlike reading James: stately, reflective, nuanced and wise.--Sarah Churchwell
I wish I could give this sublime marrying of the art and the life 10 stars...Gorra is a delightful guide through James's world, tracing the American's steps in Florence, looking over the Arno from the point that James did, or mounting the stairs of his home in Rye. His investigations never detract attention from his subject, but he permits the admittance that he sheds tears at Isabel's final scene with the dying Ralph. 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.--Lesley McDowell
Portrait of a Novel does a great deal to explain why James's book should have proved so timeless, so timely, and so enduring. Incisive, informative and hugely entertaining, Michael Gorra's 'tale not of a life but of a work' is at once a brisk, compressed biography of James... [N]ot 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, his painstaking approach to language and style, and above all, the genius and profundity with which he portrayed the characters who continue to populate our imaginative world and accompany us, at home and abroad.--Francine Prose
Portrait of a Novel is an opening shot in a revolution, an intrepid attack on the ceremonies of academic criticism... Not only a gift to non-specialist readers, who have been starved of literary discussion. It is also a troop movement in a campaign to wrest authority over criticism from the academic interpreters.--D. G. Myers