A Private Life of Henry James: Two Women and His Art by Lyndall Gordon (Vintage, £7.99 in UK)

 

The two women are James's cousin Minnie Temple, who died young, and Constance Fenimore Woolson, who drowned herself in Venice in 1894. The first of these was a much-loved New England girl who may have been the original of Isabel Archer, or at least may have suggested her; her memory stayed with James to the end of his life. Woolson was an emigre American writer, middle-aged and spinsterish, who saw a good deal of the novelist in Italy and elsewhere and to whom he was, on the whole, tactful and kind. She was plain, depressive and only moderately talented and her death was in no way James's fault, though at times this book seems to hint otherwise. Both these chapters in his life are well covered by his biographers, so stretching them out into a book of over 400 pages is rather overdoing things.