Like Michael Cunningham in "The Hours, " Colm Toibin captures the extraordinary mind and heart of a great writer. Brilliant and profoundly moving, "The Master" tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America's first intellectual families two decades before the Civil War. James left his country to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers. In stunningly resonant prose, Toibin captures the loneliness and longing, the hope and despair of a man who never married, never resolved his sexual identity, and whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed him and those he tried to love. The emotional intensity of Toibin's portrait of James is riveting. Time and again, James, a master of psychological subtlety in his fiction, proves blind to his own heart and incapable of reconciling his dreams of passion with his own fragility. Toibin is "a great and humanizing writer" who describes complex relationships in "supple, beautifully modulated prose" ("The Washington Post Book World"). In "The Master, " he has written his most ambitious and heartbreaking novel, an extraordinarily inventive encounter with a character at the cusp of the modern age, elusive to his own friends and even family, yet astonishingly vivid in these pages.
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Colm TÓibÍn was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of six novels including The Blackwater Lightship, The Master, winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Brooklyn, winner of a Costa Book Award. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, TÓibÍn lives in Dublin and New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From Chapter Three
Over the years he had learned something about the English which he had quietly and firmly adapted to his own uses. He had watched how men in England generally respected their own habits until those around them learned to follow suit. He knew men who did not rise until noon, or who slept in a chair each afternoon, or who ate beef for breakfast, and he noticed how these customs became part of the household routine and were scarcely commented on. His habits, of course, were sociable and, in the main, easy; his inclinations were civil and his idiosyncrasies mild. Thus it had become convenient to himself and simple to explain to others that he should turn down invitations, confess himself busy, overworked, engaged both day and night in his art. His time as an inveterate dinner guest in the great London houses had, he hoped, come to an end.
He loved the glorious silence a morning brought, knowing that he had no appointments that afternoon and no engagements that evening. He had grown fat on solitude, he thought, and had learned to expect nothing from the day but at best a dull contentment. Sometimes the dullness came to the fore with a strange and insistent ache which he would entertain briefly, but learn to keep at bay. Mostly, however, it was the contentment he entertained; the slow ease and the silence could, once night had fallen, fill him with a happiness that nothing, no society nor the company of any individual, no glamour or glitter, could equal.
In these days after his opening night and his return from Ireland he discovered that he could control the sadness which certain memories brought with them. When sorrows and fears and terrors came to him in the time after he woke, or in the night, they were like servants come to light a lamp or take away a tray. Carefully trained over years, they would soon disappear of their own accord, knowing not to linger.
Nonetheless, he remembered the shock and the shame of the opening night of Guy Domville. He told himself that the memory would fade, and with that admonition he tried to put all thoughts of his failure out of his mind.
Instead, he thought about money, going over amounts he had received and amounts due; he thought of travel, where he would go and when. He thought of work, ideas and characters, moments of clarity. He controlled these thoughts, he knew that they were like candles leading him through the dark. They could easily, if he did not concentrate, be snuffed out and he would again be pondering defeats and disappointments, which if not managed could lead to thoughts that left him desperate and afraid.
He woke early sometimes and when such thoughts took over, he knew that he had no choice but to rise. By operating decisively, as though he were rushing somewhere, as though the train were on time and he was late, he believed that he could banish them.
Nonetheless, he knew that he had to allow his mind its freedoms. He lived on the randomness of the mind's workings, and, now, as the day began, he found himself involved in a new set of musings and imaginings. He wondered how an idea could so easily change shape and appear fresh in a new guise; he did not know how close to the surface this story had been lurking. It was a simple tale, made simpler still by his friend Benson's father, the archbishop of Canterbury, who had tried to entertain him one evening after the failure of his play. He had hesitated too much and stopped too often as he attempted to tell a ghost story, knowing neither the middle nor the end and unsure even of the contours of the beginning.
Henry had set it down as soon as he arrived home. He wrote in his notebook: "Note here the ghost story told me at Addington (evening of Thursday 10th), by the archbishop of Canterbury: the mere vague, undetailed, faint sketch of it: the story of the young children (indefinite number and age), left to the care of servants in an old country house, through the death, presumably, of parents. The servants, wicked and depraved, corrupt and deprave the children: the children are bad, full of evil to a sinister degree. The servants die (the story vague about the way of it) and their apparitions return to haunt the house and children."
He did not need to look back at his notebook to be reminded of the story; the events remained with him. He thought of setting it in Newport, in a remote house by the rocks, or in one of the newer mansions in New York, but none of these settings captured him, and gradually he abandoned the idea of an American family. It became an English story set in the past; and in the early and slow elaboration of the story he reduced the children to merely two, a boy and his younger sister.
He thought often of the death of his sister Alice, who had died three years earlier. He had read her diaries, so full of indiscretions, for the first time. Now he felt alone, much as she had throughout her life, and he felt close to her, although he never suffered her symptoms or maladies and lacked her stoicism and her acceptance.
In his darkest hours, he felt that both of them had somehow been abandoned as their family toured Europe and returned, often for no reason, to America. They had never been fully included in the passion of events and places, becoming watchers and nonparticipants. Their brother William, the eldest, and then Wilky and Bob, who came between Henry and Alice, had been ready for the world, expertly molded, while Henry and Alice had been left unprotected and unready. He had become a writer and she had taken to her bed.
He could clearly remember the first time he sensed Alice's panic. They had been caught in the rain in Newport, having become too distracted by their own talk and laughter to pay attention to the darkening of the sky. She could have been fourteen or fifteen, but she had developed none of the strange, shy assurance of her cousins when they came to that age; their poised and careful way of coming into a room, or talking to a stranger, their easy and spontaneous way of being with friends and family, all this confidence Alice lacked.
It began to rain hard that hot summer's day and the sky over the sea was a purple-gray mass of cloud. He was wearing a light jacket, but Alice was wearing only a summer dress and a flimsy straw hat. There was no shelter at hand. A few times they tried to shelter under bushes but the rain, driven by the wind, was insistent. He took off his jacket and held it over both of them and they moved slowly and silently, huddled close together, towards home. He sensed her happiness as intense, almost shrill. He had never before understood the extent of her need for the full attention, the full pity and protection, of him or William or their parents. In these minutes, as they walked the wet sandy soil of the lane from the sea walk back to the village, he felt his sister on fire with satisfaction at being close to him. Watching her radiance and delight as they neared home, he had his first sense of how difficult things were going to be for her.
He began to watch her. Until now, he had considered the joke that William was going to marry her as a light tease, a way to make her smile and William laugh and all the family join in. It was also a show put on for visitors. William, the eldest, was six years older than Alice. As soon as Alice began to present herself to visitors, wear colorful dresses and become alert to the effect she could have on a roomful of adults, the joke that she was going to marry William became a kind of ritual.
"Oh, she's going to marry William," Aunt Kate would say, and if William were there, he would come over to her, take her arm, kiss her on the cheek. And she would say nothing, merely watch everybody, her eyes almost hostile before their smiles and laughter. Her father would lift her and hug her.
"Oh, it won't be long now," he would say.
Alice, Henry thought, never believed that she was going to marry William. She was rational and even when she was in her teens her intelligence had at its core a brittle anger. Yet because the idea that she would marry William had been spoken so many times, and because no outsider had presented himself as even vaguely plausible, the notion had entered surreptitiously but firmly into the silent places of her soul.
As he pondered and tried to shape the story of the two abandoned children told to him by the archbishop, he found himself thinking about his sister's puzzling presence in the world. He went over the scenes where she had made clear to them her considerable intelligence and her raw vulnerability. She was the only little girl he had ever known, and now, as he began to imagine a little girl, it was his sister's unquiet ghost which came to him.
He remembered a scene when Alice must have been sixteen. It was one of those long dinners with one or two guests, he remembered, and someone was talking about life after death, and meeting members of their family after death, or hoping to, or believing they might. Then one of the guests, or Aunt Kate, had suggested praying to meet the loved ones in the next life, when suddenly Alice's voice rose above all others and everyone stopped and looked at her.
"One need pray for nothing," she said. "Reference to those whom we should meet again makes me shiver. It is an invasion of their sanctity. It is the sort of personal claim to which I am deeply opposed."
She had sounded like Emerson's aunt, someone steeped in the philosophy of life and death, someone who prided herself on the independence of her thought. It was clear to her family that she had a sharp mind and a great wit but that she knew that she would have to conceal them if she wanted to be like the other young women of her age.
Alice had friends and visitors and went on outings. She learned to be acceptable to the sisters of her brothers' associates. But Henry observed her when a young man came into the room and he noticed the change in her behavior. She could not relax and her silences were full of force. She would become garrulous, talking a mixture of nonsense and paradox. There was a t...
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Book Description PICADOR, 2004. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 330485652