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Master by Colm Toibin

Master (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Colm Toibin

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2,317682,727 (3.85)312
Authors:Colm Toibin
Info:Picador (2005), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Henry James, Historical Fiction

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The Master by Colm Tóibín (2004)


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English (67)  Swedish (2)  All languages (69)
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
[The Master] is excellent biographical fiction about American author, Henry James, living and writing in Europe. Toibin focuses on the middle of James's career 1895-1899 including many flashbacks about his personal life and writing. During this time he settled in Rye, England, purchasing a house, and had already written Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. He was yet to write The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and the Golden Bowl.

Toibin seems to really capture James's personality in this book. Rather than a discovery of James through his known travels, correspondence, etc, Toibin uses these facts in the background to create a real character study. He subtly reveals James's habits of observation and how they were used to create his work. He also illuminates the personality traits of this fussy, particular, sensitive man in a way that made me feel fondness rather than annoyance, a great feat on Toibin's part as these are characteristics that drive me crazy!

Reading this book in tandem with [The Ambassadors] was a great experience for me. I really identified with Toibin's take on Henry James and could see how James's personality and writing style converged. This book may make me a bit more patient with James's wordiness (or not, but I hope so) and definitely will make me more appreciate the power of his characterization and observation. I do think James has a knack for creating seeming mundane situations that take on great importance in a character's life. I like that.

Toibin created excellent biographical fiction in which you can hear James's voice and witness his character all the way through the book, with no shift to an omniscient perspective or intrusion by the author. I thought it was a wise choice to present this book in third person limited. I got immersed in James without having to get too personal if it was in first person. Henry James does not seem to be the sort of person who could have given away his thoughts, even in his own head, so first person would have been too revealing.

Really excellent book. ( )
4 vote japaul22 | Aug 22, 2016 |
Oscar Wilde
Henry James — master of psychological novel
loud large + Irish
Ink Blu
Pg 19 - Money grace - having/holding it set people apart

Pg 50
his childhood — dragged countries/cities/schools
knew both more + less than others
History, European cities
solitude, uncertainty standing alone

Pg 83 — Yearning openness of Americans readiness for experience, bright eyes with expectations + promise
By nature English experience — sure of place + ready for change
steeped is solid, social system — develop thousands of yrs w/o interruption

Pg 137
Vastation — visit from God

Pg 175
at Law School — to avoid war brother Wilky 54th mostly Bk regiment
Statue in Boston Common
Men of Letters/Avoiding War

Pg 202
good background, ideas sacred second only to manners pull to ordered community w/ new god + idealism — trust in spirit

Pg 278 — Deeply Private matters

Pg 208
important to be allied w/ someone who could offer her greater purpose/scope for all her flair + charm
Pg 257 — I have come as close as I could — as near as I dared — Henry talking to Charles' spirit

Pg 258 brave face, cover old wounds erase old scars

259 -
Bohemians in studies, knew had to give servants orders dilettantes here okay

Pg 269 -
Light/Beauty/views of places worth yrs in exile loss of native countries interest only

P 295 - No Past Failure — future triumph

298 — shriveled under warnings but would rebloom

P 321 - Burden idle + distressed presence
Spirit world — his brother was metaphysicalMother says he will be last + not alone

Lynn Pg 44 - observed world from window

Pg 216 Charlotte's world

Pg 235 — quiet men's own company
undisturbed life offense

Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers.
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  christinejoseph | Jul 27, 2016 |
This is such an enjoyable read. Toibin inhabits Henry James, the novelist, during a period towards the latter part of his life when he moves to Rye on the south coast of England. Toibin borrows from the style of Henry James and, if I may say so, is better at writing in Henry James's style that James, The Master himself.

The novel reflectsback on aspects of James's life and coyness on his sexuality and weaves through the ispiration of some of his writing and the possible real relations he had with people who inhabit James's novels.

It's a curious thing that the house James moved to in Rye, Lamb House, was also the home much later of E F Benson, another gay man whose novels of Mapp and Lucia are such a gay romp ( )
  Edwinrelf | May 15, 2016 |
This is a fictional biography of the American writer, Henry James, who is sometimes called the father of the psychological novel. What Tóibín does is to present a psychological portrait of the man, imaginatively inventing James’ thoughts and feelings over a five-year period when he is in his 50s (between January 1895 and October 1899).

There are numerous flashbacks to crucial events in James’ past so the reader learns of his relationship with his parents and siblings (especially his elder brother William and his sister Alice), his evasion of the American Civil War, his love for his cousin Minnie Temple, and his friendship with Constance Fenimore Woolson.

One of the aspects of his life that Tóibín explores is James’ repressed homosexuality. His attraction to men is shown in his relationships with Oliver Wendell Holmes, a manservant in Ireland, and the sculptor Hendrick Andersen, yet he chooses to deny these feelings. After the trial of Oscar Wilde, one of James’ friends suggests that because of the moral climate, anyone else who might face charges of indecency would be wise to leave England. He tells James, “’I wondered if you, if perhaps . . .’” and James replies sharply, “’No. . . . You do not wonder. There is nothing to wonder about’” (72).

In fact, James seems to totally cut himself off from his feelings. At one point, he thinks about being glad he “preserved his own thick shell” (295). There is a constant tension between his attraction to people and his desperate need to withhold himself from them. For example, he loves his sister but when she becomes ill and could use more of his attention, he withdraws and leaves her in the care of a friend. The same thing happens with his beloved cousin Minnie Temple; after her death, a friend asks, “’Do you ever regret not taking her to Italy when she was ill? . . . a winter in Rome might have saved her. . . . You were her cousin and could have traveled with her. You were free, in fact you were already in Rome. It would have cost you nothing’” (112). James also develops a very strong friendship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, but when she seems to make demands on his time, he avoids her because her plans “would interfere crucially with his inviolable need to make his own arrangements and do as he pleased” (236). Only after her death does he realize, “He had let her down” (241).

Of course there is a price to be paid for continually avoiding emotional involvement and observing the world rather than participating. In the end he is alone, as the final image of the novel emphasizes: he wanders alone the rooms of his home “from whose windows he had observed the world, so that they could be remembered and captured and held” (338). When he speaks of the “stories of disappointment” which he is writing, with one character who realizes too late that “his failure, . . . his own coldness, is the catastrophe” and another who recognizes that “it is our duty to live all we can, but it is too late’” (334), James is describing himself. One of the most memorable images in the novel has James facing a large bookcase of his books and his eyes filling with tears (292). There is such a powerful note of sadness at the thought that his concentration on writing, not life, has meant he has missed so much though he has worked so hard.

One of Tóibín’s accomplishments is to show how incidents and memories are the genesis of James’ writing. He speaks about raiding his own memories (183), and an acquaintance tells him, “’We all liked you, and I suppose you liked us as well, but you were too busy gathering material to like anyone too much. You were charming, of course, but you were like a young banker collecting our savings. Or a priest listening to our sins. I remember my aunt warning us not to tell you anything’” (265). One of James’ saddest observations concerns the death of Minnie: “he felt a sharp and unbearable idea staring at him, like something alive and fierce and predatory in the air, whispering to him that he had preferred her dead rather than alive, that he had known what to do with her once life was taken from her” (115). What he did is to make her the heroine of his novel The Portrait of a Lady.

The style of the book with its elegant vocabulary is evocative of James’ style though it is much more easily readable because Tóibín avoids the overly long sentences which are James’ trademark. The restrained and formal tone conveys James’ personality.

As are Tóibín’s other novels, this one is complex and moving. It portrays a writer confronting his failures and inadequacies as a human being. The reader may be shocked at James’ ruthlessness, but also feel sympathy for someone so filled with self-reproach. The book has been much-honoured and understandably so.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Apr 15, 2016 |
“Life is a mystery and…only sentences are beautiful,” Colm Tóibín’s Henry James observes when asked, toward the end of The Master, the moral of his stories. And to be sure, there is no want of beautiful sentences in this novel of five years in Henry James’ life. It begins with his disastrous play, “Guy Domville”, in 1895 and ends with a rapprochement of sorts between Henry and his older brother, William, the noted psychologist. Through a series of studies of crucial events in James’ life over this period, Tóibín paints the portrait of an artist at peace with his life-choices, dedicated to his subtle art, always seeming to stand at the entrance to a room observing sensitively without ever giving away too much of himself.

The prose is wonderfully evocative. Not so much an imitation of James’ style as a worthy homage. It is richly dense, enough so that you will linger in reading it. But it is never ponderous. Tóibín’s love for James, both author and man, comes through clearly. It may indeed be Tóibín’s finest work.

The only hesitation I have in recommending it whole-heartedly is that I don’t understand why a writer of Tóibín’s talents would undertake such a work of fiction. This is a general bemusement not confined to this work in particular. Such a work of hagiographic historical fiction always, it seems to me, trades upon the reader’s often malformed assumptions about the historical figure or the historical period. In some ways this frees the author to concentrate on the portrait and ignore the frame. But it also constrains the meaning that might be conveyed. Of course this is merely a limitation on the form and not a comment on its execution, which here is done about as well as I could ever imagine it. And on that ground I feel confident in recommending it. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Mar 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
''The Master'' is sure to be greatly admired by James devotees; just as surely it will strike less ardent readers as the kind of book in which not much actually happens.
Whatever Toibin's literary-critical and ideological interest in James, ''The Master'' is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist -- one who has for the past decade been writing excellent novels about people cut off from their feelings or families or both.

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Colm Tóibínprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Toibin, Colmmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bandini, DitteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bandini, GiovanniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hope, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743250419, Paperback)

Like Michael Cunningham in The Hours, Colm Tóibín captures the extraordinary mind and heart of a great writer. Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of a man born into one of America's first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers.

In stunningly resonant prose, Tóibín captures the loneliness and the hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed those he tried to love. The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:03 -0400)

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In 'The master', his brilliant and profoundly moving fifth novel, Colm To?ibi?n tells the story of Henry James, an American-born genius of the modern novel who became a connoisseur of exile, living among artists and aristocrats in Paris, Rome, Venice and London.… (more)

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