Sunday, January 3, 2010

Elizabeth Maguire's The Open Door

Reading the preface, I wasn't quite sure that this is about a real woman author but later research showed it to be true. When you are done reading you are not sure who to applaud the most, the astute author who laid out such a lively picture of this independent American author ahead of her time or the character herself. Either way it is a good book to read. Compact in size and easy to finish too!

Elizabeth Maguire has taken great resources from within herself to make the book come alive. She had to feel a lot of empathy for Constance Fenimore Woolson to be able to write her thoughts and actions out so well. Woolson's platonic relationship with acclaimed author Henry James is a main thread in the book. Woolson herself had accomplished fame and money by colorful writings of the local American lives that she was so familiar with. James cannot take it that Fenimore - as he calls her - probably made more money than him in the writing business. He knows his is the superior work which Woolson accepts without contest, yet he cannot get over his jealousy at her financial success.

The story begins with the death of Woolson's mother who was under her care. Finally free of this loving but stifling bond, Woolson takes off for Europe never to return. One reason for the trip was to meet and befriend her favorite author Henry James. Once she caught up with him, they became rather fast friends. For the rest of her life, she did everything she could to keep this friendship out of jeopardy. She was afflicted with the depression that had plagued her father and in the end succumbed to its clutches. Reading about Woolson through Maguire, one gets the feeling that she really could not help it especially at that time when even the smallest of women's afflictions was dismissed as nothing serious by vaguely condescending male doctors. She did find some good physicians to help with the persistant ear problem that eventually denied her even the mere enjoyment of music. Throughout it all one can feel the will power and discipline that enabled her to have the life that she wanted regardless of the scant medical help. This hope inspiring and is recognised as such I believe.  It was  interesting to read about the time when James wrote The Portrait Of A Lady as that was a book I had liked much. Here is the Amazon review on Open Door.