Minny Temple (Painting #12 of 13) “Influential Women”

Minny Temple #2

Minny Temple
1845 – 1870

“I am not a candidate for adoption. I am very fond of my liberty.”

As Edward Wagenknecht, creator of Eve and Henry James, says, “Isabel had at least one important nonliterary source in Jame’s cousin Minny Temple.” James loved Minny’s “precociousness, brashness and independence of sprit.” More than a love of a cousin, James was passionate about Minny. But just as the character in James’ The Portrait of a Lady, Ralph Touchett, could never marry Isabel Archer due to close blood ties, so was Henry James thwarted in his unrequited love of Minny Temple. Nonetheless, Minny supplied James time and again as a model for his literary female characters. Author Fred Kaplan remarks: “ Minny attached life. If she was reckless, it was a recklessness that excited James.”

An atypical Victorian woman, Minny defied the narrow constraints harnessing the role of females of her generation. Inquisitive and explorative, she was bound to challenge the world around her. A tribute to Minny’s independence, her willfulness is immortalized for so many readers of James’ novels. Her tenacious approach to life sculpted the personalities of subsequent generations of young women by giving them an alternative example to the prescribed social expectations of her day.

Minny Temple died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 25, no doubt a crushing blow to her fondest admirer, Henry James. Is it possible that her loss is the reason James never married? He certainly endowed many of his created women with her sprit. She was a major influence on him and a presence he imbibed in much of his writings.

(painting photo: Mark Serman)

© Laurence Revene, 2014

~ by Larry Revene on July 12, 2014.

2 Responses to “Minny Temple (Painting #12 of 13) “Influential Women””

  1. Though it’s increasingly clear Minny inspired Henry James as model for heroines of at least four of his novels, the evidence and his own letters show it was his brother William who was unabashedly in love with her. Henry insisted he never more than an admirer, never in her orbit, though they were the same age.

    That being the official story, really, Henry also commented on her role in his stories as a baseline, his characters more filled out and, in perhaps the last, dying inevitably but afforded a better stage with more intimate players affected both inwardly and outwardly. She clearly affected Henry’s imagination and lived on in countless scenes until the end of his life.

    And those of us a century later affected by both William’s and Henry’s thoughts are almost as haunted. For a young woman who died so young, she’s had an extraordinarily long life!


  2. Thanks Joel for you insights and comments. As a painter I was taken by Ms. Templ’s looks when I started her portrait as part of the Influential Women series. It was only after well into the painting process that I researched her background. As we know the information the Internet supplies can be dated at best or totally inaccurate. I do appreciate you taking the time to post information you have regarding Minny’s history.


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