A biography reaffirming the literary stature of Constance Fenimore Woolson, who is perhaps best known for having contributed to Henry James’s conception of his heroine Isabelle Archer in The Portrait of a Lady, but who was herself one of the most accomplished American writers of the nineteenth century.
Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, provides a rich and detailed, well, portrait, of Woolson, placing her life and work in historical and literary context. It serves not only as an excellent biography in its own right, but as an introduction to an interesting but frustratingly forgotten writer ... This new biography cannot be charged with the typical criticisms of academic writing: it's accessible, engaging, and wonderfully written. Frequently mixing her own prose with excerpts from letters, Woolson's fiction, and other documents, Rioux provides a well-rounded portrait of Woolson ... this biography is enthralling and significant: read it, and help begin to give Woolson the posthumous recognition she no doubt deserves.
Rioux is adept at finding and interpreting Woolson’s account of her own highs and lows and those of others in her family, without forcing a contemporary diagnosis on her subjects. ... The painstakingly detailed account of Woolson’s final days is a remarkable, moving testament to the power of determined research and elegant writing.
If there's any area that Rioux skimps on, it's Woolson's writing itself. Where many literary biographies are cluttered with excerpts and analysis, Rioux's stays lean and digestible; but it remains to be seen whether Woolson's literary reputation will be restored alongside her historical one.