The Master

A Novel

The Master

  • 2
“Colm Tóibín’s beautiful, subtle illumination of Henry James’s inner life” (The New York Times) captures the loneliness and hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably fail those he tried to love.

Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers. With stunningly resonant prose, “The Master is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist: artful, moving, and very beautiful” (The New York Times Book Review). The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting.
  • Scribner | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743250412 | 
  • May 2005
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for The Master by Colm Toibin
1. In this book Colm Toibin makes the novelist Henry James a protagonist. Do you think the novel is more powerful because it's based on a significant historical figure? Would it be equally powerful and resonant if the central figure were invented?
2. The novel reveals Henry James as a dedicated and inspired writer who relishes the solitary confinement that a writer's life often demands. The reader discovers early on that Henry "wished for solitude and for the comfort of knowing that his life depended not on the multitude but on remaining himself"(page 23). Does Henry achieve his wish of staying true to himself? How might have Henry betrayed his true feelings/ longings?
3. After the terrible reception of Henry's play, "Guy Domville," the narrator states that "he now had to face the melancholy fact that nothing he did would ever be popular or generally appreciated"(page 32). Henry is prolific, nonetheless, producing volumes of work during his writing life. Would you consider Henry's life successful? Do you think he considered his life's work a success?
4. Henry never marries and seems to have little interest in women beyond friendship, but there are several curious interactions between him and Paul Joukovsky, the war veteran Holmes, the manservant Hammond, and the sculptor Andersen. Discuss Henry's ambivalence toward his sexuality. Why do you suppose he never fully acts on his sexual impulses? H see more

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About the Author

Colm Toibin
© Brigitte Lacombe

Colm Toibin

Colm Tóibín is the author of nine novels, including The Blackwater Lightship; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary; and Nora Webster, as well as two story collections. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. Three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.