Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Channeling Henry James and The Opposite Sex

Eilis Lacey is a young, working class Irishwoman who reluctantly immigrates to America, settling in Brooklyn in the 1950s, where she becomes a stronger, more independent woman. Henry James is born into a prominent American family in 1843 and becomes one of the great novelists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What do these two have in common? Both are the richly imagined protagonists of novels by Irish writer Colm Toibin, who is blessed with what Willa Cather termed "the gift of sympathy."

In his novel based on the life of Henry James, aptly titled The Master, Toibin tunnels so deeply into the mind of his fictional Henry James that I felt as though, yes, this is exactly what James must have felt, though rationally, of course, I recognize that it's ultimately a fictional rendering of James.

Toibin is no less insightful in his latest novel, Brooklyn, which won the Costa Book Award and which is the selection of the Thursday evening book group on October 14th at 7:30. (You can register and pick up a copy of the book at the 3rd floor Readers' Services desk.) Especially impressive is Toibin's ability to view the world through the eyes of his young heroine; not every author can write convincingly from the point of view of the opposite sex. Willa Cather and Gustave Flaubert, in My Antonia and Madame Bovary, respectively, are two who excelled at this. Into which company I'd add Colm Toibin.

Here's a passage about the heroine of Brooklyn, Eilis: "She found herself thanking him in a tone that Rose might have used, a tone warm and private but also slightly distant though not shy either, a tone used by a woman in full possession of herself. It was something she could not have done in the town or in a place where any of her family or friends might have seen her."

What author has impressed you with his or her ability to write convincingly from the perspective of the opposite sex?


Anonymous said...

Nobody tells a geisha's story like Mr. Arthur Golden.

Fiona Dinwiddie said...

Thackeray wrote Becky Sharp, one of my favorite female characters.

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments and suggestions here. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.