The Master – Colm Tóibín

  • Colm Tóibín is a master of queer sensibility.
  • Amazing amount of detailed research to flesh out the story and the characters for this novelised biography. A tour de force.
  • Henry James is portrayed as having English sensibilities; came through particularly when we he was planning the conversation to have with his parents about studying law at Harvard.
  • It’s the first Tóibín book I’ve truly enjoyed.
  • The slow pace seemed British, a did the family schisms and the family’s inability to talk about emotions.
  • In 2003-4 there were about four authors writing about Henry James: Lodge, Hollinghurst, Tóibín and another. Tóibín’s is the best.
  • William and Henry James were both great thinkers: and it’s amazing they were brothers and it ran in the family.
  • Colm Tóibín is a writer himself: he’s also not a very open about himself, so there could have been a connection.
  • Henry is a weak person, influenced by everyone around him.
  • Alongside regret, Henry experiences guilt about the deaths of his sister and friends.
  • Colm Tóibín brought all these amazing characters throughout the book to life: lesbians, feminists, gay guys etc.
  • Hard to gauge what is truth and what is fiction in a novelised biography: irrespective, Tóibín has done a great job.
  • The confidence apparent in the work is a result of a lot of research.
  • The cuddle in bed was portrayed as a gay thing: at the time it would not have been seen as such.
  • Liked they was that we learned as the book progressed, that the main character in ‘Portrait of a Lady’ was based on his close friend.
  • Interesting tension in the book: James was an outsider to English society, but living in England.
  • Henry James was portrayed as not being reflective or aware of his own emotions or motives. Would have been more interesting to have had some development here. However, the emptiness here could be a reality, or the limits to what Tóibín was willing to invent. James may also be afraid of what truths self-analysis may uncover.
  • Tóibín was writing a version of James that he wanted to exist.
  • James was aware of both Symonds and Wilde, both of whom were ‘out’ in society. If James had been more accepting of his sexuality would he have felt hypocritical if that hadn’t been reflected in his writing?
  • Characterisation of Burgess Noakes was amazing
  • Suggestions of Henry James books to read next:
    • The Jolly Corner
    • The Aspen Papers
    • Pattern in the Carpet
    • Daisy Miller
    • In the Cage

GM