The three novels in this Library of America volume from Henry James’s middle period explore some historical and social dilemmas that belong as much to our time as to his own. The Princess Casamassima was published in 1886, a year that saw riots of the unemployed in London. It is a political novel in which anarchists and terrorists conspire within a fin de siècle world of opulence and glamour. The action ranges from palaces to slums, from London to Paris to Venice and back again. The novel’s hero, Hyacinth Robinson, is torn between his loyalty to revolutionary causes—for which he is about to commit an act of violence that may cost him his life—and his taste for the artistic side of aristocratic culture, represented in part by the beautiful, wealthy, compassionate, and yet deceptive Princess of the title. Possibly to save Hyacinth, she becomes romantically involved with his fellow conspirator Paul Muniment, a calculating political operative, idealistic and treacherous by turns. Assassination plots, sexual betrayals, murder, suicide, and the fierce play of conflicting loyalties—all these bring into play an intricate abundance of attendant figures, like the rakish Captain Sholto and the appealing but faithless Millicent Henning.
The Reverberator (1888) is a swiftly paced comic novel named after a newspaper that caters to the American public’s appetite for the “society news of every quarter of the globe.” Francie Dosson, the free-spirited daughter of a wealthy Boston family, innocently provides gossip to George Flack, a “young commercial American” who writes for the paper. His published report imperils her engagement to Gaston Probert, whose family is outraged by the airing of its secrets. James portrays the collision of easily shocked Old World propriety and self-assured New World naiveté with benevolent affection and spirited delight.
The Tragic Muse (1890) explores with a topical realism not usually found in James the conflicts between art and politics, society and the Bohemian life. It does so with dazzling glimpses of Parisian theater and of London aestheticism, as articulated by the flamboyant and idealistic Gabriel Nash. At its center are four superbly drawn characters. The fascinating Miriam Rooth is an actress of overwhelming egotistic vitality and dedication to her art. Her suitor, the diplomat Peter Sherringham, is impassioned by her theatrical talent even while asking her to sacrifice it for his career. Nick Dormer faces a similar predicament in his engagement to the rich Julia Dallow, who wants him to forgo his painting so as to make use of her fortune in pursuit of his career in Parliament. Full of witty talk and vividly dramatic scenes, the novel includes a vast array of characters such as the impressive political matriarch Lady Dormer. Perhaps more than any of his novels, it attests to James’s recognition of the costs of any dedication, like his own, to creative achievement.
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Henry James (1843-1916), born in New York City, was the son of noted religious philosopher Henry James, Sr., and brother of eminent psychologist and philosopher William James. He spent his early life in America and studied in Geneva, London and Paris during his adolescence to gain the worldly experience so prized by his father. He lived in Newport, went briefly to Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began to contribute both criticism and tales to magazines.
In 1869, and then in 1872-74, he paid visits to Europe and began his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Late in 1875 he settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where two years later he achieved international fame with Daisy Miller. Other famous works include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and three large novels of the new century, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). In 1905 he revisited the United States and wrote The American Scene (1907).
During his career he also wrote many works of criticism and travel. Although old and ailing, he threw himself into war work in 1914, and in 1915, a few months before his death, he became a British subject. In 1916 King George V conferred the Order of Merit on him. He died in London in February 1916.From Library Journal:
This volume contains the novels The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Reverberator (1888), and The Tragic Muse (1890) along with a chronology of James's life and notes from scholar Fogel . Since it provides three novels on permanent paper at a reasonable price, this edition should be considered by every literature collection.-- MR
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