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Henry James

Henry James

The American author Henry James (1843-1916) was one of the major novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His works deal largely with the impact of Europe and its society on Americans.

Henry James, the son of a theologian and the brother of the philosopher William James, was born on April 15, 1843, at Washington Place in New York City. His childhood was spent in the city and in Albany and then, between the ages of 12 and 17, in Europe. He was privately tutored in London, Geneva, and Paris. His American education began at school in Newport, R.I. James entered Harvard Law School in 1862, leaving after a year. In 1864 his family settled in Boston and then in Cambridge. That same year he published his first story and early reviews.

James's frequent appearances in the Atlantic Monthly began in 1865. Four years later he traveled again in England, France, and Italy, returning to Cambridge in 1870 and publishing his first novel, Watch and Ward. It concerned American life in a specifically American setting, the upper-class world of Boston, its suburbs, and Newport. At the age of 29 James was again in Europe, spending a summer in Paris and most of 1873 in Rome, where he began Roderick Hudson. For a year in New York City he was part of the literary world of the era. His criticism appeared in 1874 and 1875 in the Nation and the North American Review. Also in 1875, Transatlantic Sketches, A Passionate Pilgrim, and Roderick Hudson appeared. Transatlantic Sketches is a travel book, as is A Passionate Pilgrim, which anticipates the theme of the European impact on what James repeatedly identified as the "American state of Innocence." Roderick Hudson is fiction on the same theme, a response to the colony of American expatriates James knew in Rome.

His Expatriation

James's disengagement from America was a long process; he wrote: "I saw my parents homesick, as I conceived, for the ancient order, and distressed and inconvenienced by many of the more immediate features of the modern, as the modern pressed about us, and since their theory of a better living was from an early time that we should renew the question of the ancient on the very first possibility I simply grew greater in the faith that somehow to manage that would constitute success in life." Living in Paris during 1876, James wrote The American. At the time, he knew Ivan Turgenev, Gustave Flaubert, Edmond de Goncourt, Émile Zola, and others. His expatriation was complete by the end of that year, when he settled in London.

The impact of his short novel Daisy Miller (1879) brought James fame in Europe and the United States; it was his first popular success. He explained the novel this way: "The whole idea of the story is the little tragedy of a light, thin, natural, unsuspecting creature being sacrificed as it were to a social rumpus that went on quite over her head and to which she stood in no measurable relation. To deepen the effect, I have made it go over her mother's head as well." James repeated the same effect, and intention, in several other novels and stories. In The Portrait of a Lady, for example, the effect is similar but more intricate. James mentioned his "Americano-European legends" as one of the central impulses of his work.

Between 1879 and 1882 James produced his first major series of novels. They were The Europeans, Washington Square, Confidence, and The Portrait of a Lady. Of the four, only Washington Square is about American life. By 1886 a 14-volume collection of his novels and tales was published. He wrote The Bostonians and The Princess Casamassima in 1886 while living in a flat in De Vere Gardens in London. Both are social dramas. "The Aspern Papers," the short novel The Reverberator, and "A London Life" appeared the following year. The Tragic Muse, one of his most ambitious novels, was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly in 1890.

James then entered a 5-year period in which he concentrated on writing drama. The American was produced as a play in London by Edward Compton. The effort ended in 1895, when he was jeered at the opening of his play Guy Domville at St. James's Theatre in London. He abandoned the stage. Almost never revived, his plays are included in two volumes, Theatricals and Theatricals: Second Series.

Later Career

A bachelor, James settled in Lamb House, Rye, in 1898, and continued his 20-year "siege" of English life and society. His schedule of concentrated work during the day and of relaxation at night produced in 1898 The Two Magics, a collection of stories that includes his novella "The Turn of the Screw" and the short novel In the Cage. What is frequently identified as his third and best phase began the following year with The Awkward Age, and between 1899 and 1904 he wrote The Sacred Fount, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. James himself described The Ambassadors as the "best -all round"' of his novels. In his early, middle, and later periods he relied explicitly on "devices" and the "grammar" of fiction, on "point of view," "scene," "dramatizing," selection of incidents, structure, and perspective. It was through technique that he isolated values, and he insisted that the primary values were "truth" and "life."

In September 1904 James returned to the United States after a 20-year absence, passing the fall with his brother William in New Hampshire and, later, revisiting New York City. After a year of lecturing he returned to Lamb House in England and began revising his fiction and writing the critical prefaces to the definitive New York edition of his work. During 1909 he suffered from a long nervous illness and produced a series of stories that appeared as The Finer Grain. He was in New Hampshire when William died after a long illness. Before returning to England in 1911, he received an honorary degree from Harvard; he received another from Oxford the following year.

James's autobiographical memoirs, A Small Boy and Others and Notes of a Son and Brother, were completed shortly before the outbreak of World War I. The war's disruption greatly disturbed him. He began war work in various hospitals, writing for war charities and aiding Belgian refugees. On July 26, 1915, James was naturalized as a British subject. Later in the year his last illness, a stroke and pneumonia, began. Before his death on Feb. 28, 1916, he received the Order of Merit from King George V. The funeral services were in Chelsea Old Church, London, and his ashes were buried in the family plot in Cambridge, Mass.

Further Reading

Critical and biographical material on James is extensive. The definitive biography is Leon Edel, Henry James (5 vols., 1953-1972). Other biographies are Van Wyck Brooks, The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925), an early and influential book, and Quentin Anderson, The American Henry James (1957). F. W. Dupee, Henry James (1951; 2d ed. rev. 1956), is a critical biography. Millicent Bell, Edith Wharton and Henry James: The Story of Their Friendship (1965), contains correspondence of James to Mrs. Wharton and considerable biographical material. Oscar Cargill, The Novels of Henry James (1961), is an articulate introduction to his writing. Important critical studies of James are Joseph Warren Beach, The Method of Henry James (1918; rev. ed. 1954), and F. O. Matthiessen, Henry James: The Major Phase (1944). See also Christof Wegelin, The Image of Europe in Henry James (1958). Roger Gard, ed., Henry James: The Critical Heritage (1968), is a collection of reviews and articles on James and is useful in viewing responses to James's work from the late 19th to the early 20th century. □

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James, Henry (American novelist and critic)

Henry James, 1843–1916, American novelist and critic, b. New York City. A master of the psychological novel, James was an innovator in technique and one of the most distinctive prose stylists in English.

He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a Swedenborgian theologian, and the brother of William James, the philosopher. Educated privately by tutors in Europe and the United States, he entered Harvard law school in 1862. Encouraged by William Dean Howells and other members of the Cambridge literary circle in the 1860s, James wrote critical articles and reviews for the Atlantic Monthly, a periodical in which several of his novels later appeared in serial form. He made several trips to Europe, and while there he became associated with such notable literary figures as Turgenev and Flaubert. In 1876 he settled permanently in London and became a British subject in 1915.

James devoted himself to literature and travel, gradually assuming the role of detached spectator and analyst of life. In his early novels, including Roderick Hudson (1876), The American (1877), Daisy Miller (1879), and The Portrait of a Lady (1881), as well as some of his later work, James contrasts the sophisticated, though somewhat staid, Europeans with the innocent, eager, though often brash, Americans. In the novels of his middle period, The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), and The Tragic Muse (1890), he turned his attention from the international theme to reformers, revolutionaries, and political aspirants.

During and after an unsuccessful six-year attempt (1889–95) to win recognition as a playwright, James wrote a series of short, powerful novels, including The Aspern Papers (1888), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and The Sacred Fount (1901). In his last and perhaps his greatest novels, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904), all marked by a return to the international theme, James reached his highest development in the portrayal of the intricate subtleties of character and in the use of a complex, convoluted style to express delicate nuances of thought.

Perhaps more than any previous writer, James refined the technique of narrating a novel from the point of view of a character, thereby laying the foundations of modern stream of consciousness fiction. The series of critical prefaces he wrote for the reissue of his novels (beginning in 1907) won him a reputation as a superb technician. He is also famous for his finely wrought short stories, including "The Beast in the Jungle" and "The Real Thing," which are masterpieces of the genre. In addition to fiction and literary criticism, James wrote several books on travel and three autobiographical works. He never married.

Bibliography

See his notebooks, ed. by F. O. Matthiessen and K. B. Murdock (1947); his plays, ed. by L. Edel (1949); his travel writings, ed. by R. Howard (2 vol., 1993); his complete letters, ed. by P. A. Walker and G. W. Zacharias (3 vol., 2009–11) and selected letters, ed. by P. Horne (1999); biographies by L. Edel (5 vol., 1953–71, rev. ed. 1985), R. Gard (1987), F. Kaplan (1992), L. Gordon (1999), and S. M. Novick (2 vol., 1996–2007); studies by F. O. Matthiessen (1944), J. W. Beach (rev. ed. 1954), Q. Anderson (1957), S. Sears (1968), P. Buitenhuis (1970), O. Cargill (1961, repr. 1971), P. Brooks (2007), and M. Gorra (2012). See also studies of the James family by F. O. Matthiessen (1947), R. W. B. Lewis (1991), and P. Fisher (2008).

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James, Henry (American student of religion and social problems)

Henry James, 1811–82, American student of religion and social problems, b. Albany, N.Y.; father of the philosopher William James and of the novelist Henry James. He rebelled against the strict Calvinist theology of his family and of Princeton Theological Seminary, to which he was sent, and sought a personal solution. Swedenborg's teachings opened for him a way and provided the framework for his own thought as expressed in Substance and Shadow; or, Morality and Religion in Their Relation to Life (1863), Society the Redeemed Form of Man, and the Earnest of God's Omnipotence in Human Nature (1879), and other books. He later developed a social philosophy based upon the principles of Charles Fourier. He was a close friend of many literary figures, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle.

See F. H. Young, The Philosophy of Henry James (1950); biographies by A. Warren (1934) and A. Habegger (1994). See also studies of the James family by F. O. Matthiessen (1947), R. W. B. Lewis (1991), and P. Fisher (2008).

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James, Henry

James, Henry (1843–1916) US novelist, brother of William James. James settled (1876) in England and became a British subject in 1915. His early masterpiece The Portrait of a Lady (1881) contrasts the values of American and European society. The novels of his middle period, such as The Bostonians (1886), deal with political themes. His final novels, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) show his mastery of the psychological novel. Other works include The Turn of the Screw (1898).

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