The spate of novels about Henry James seems odd even to Michiel Heyns, who wrote one of them. But to reclaim a principle of mastery, novelists seem willing to violate a lifeby Michiel Heyns / September 26, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
My agent forwards me another polite letter of rejection: “I am so sorry but timing is all – and there has just been a spate of fiction based on the life of Henry James published here. I don’t know how these coincidences happen… something in the atmosphere? So regretfully I must say no.”
The spate of fiction referred to by this editor, I don’t need reminding, is Felony by Emma Tennant (Jonathan Cape), The Master by Colm Tóibín (Picador), and now Author, Author by David Lodge (Secker & Warburg). My own novel, The Typewriter’s Tale, thus has to make its way, after three years in the making, into an “atmosphere” already saturated with fictions about James.
David Lodge (in an afterword) comments on this plethora, without explaining it: “I leave it to students of the zeitgeist to ponder the significance of these coincidences.” As a victim of the zeitgeist, I am left pondering why James is such an irresistible subject for fictionalisation.