Henry James Week: Colm Toibin: The Living Spell of Henry James

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Download the Colm Toibin interviews from Radio Open Source

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 attention.