Radio Open Source, Brown University, 19 May 2009
In this selection of interviews
with Irish writer Colm Toibin, Christopher Lydon found out more about the ways in which Henry James influenced Toibin's work.
Toibin not only published the novel The Master, which was directly inspired by James; but his later work Brooklyn
had strong echoes of The Portrait of a Lady in its basic scenario of a young woman trying to come to terms with living
in a foreign environment.
The interviews touched on various topics; the significance of secrecy in societies where women were supposed
to be seen and not heard; the idea of withholding information as a means of sustaining the social order; James' relationship
to his family; his elusiveness as a novelist; his ambiguous sexuality; and his dramatization of the cultural clash between
American and European values.
What was most tangible, however, was the way in which James retains his importance in the contemporary
world, nearly a century after his death. We are accustomed to hearing about Shakespeare's or Austen's enduring importance
to readers of all nations, irrespective of their social origins (witness the amount of material available online), but James
is often considered too "highbrow," appealing only to a so-called "sophisticated" readership. Lydon's interviews with
Toibin prove the opposite: Jamesian themes and preoccupations appeal to everyone.
I hope the reviews published during this Henry James week have made readers aware of
this; there is a wide range of material available, if people are prepared to look for it. Now all we need
to do is to survey the fan fiction: maybe in the future Jamesians will be able to compete with Janeites for our