Henry James

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Henry James (New York, 1843 – London, 1916) was an American writer. His works included 20 novels, 112 short stories, 12 plays, and a number of literary criticism. He wrote novels that portrayed Americans living abroad, and stories of penetrating psychological insight. He had sharp wit and did not hesitate to use satire.

James considered The Ambassadors (1903) his most perfect work of art. His manly novel The Bostonians (1886) is a criticism of the feminist mindset on a personal level, described by some as the last candid assessment of sexual politics in literature. A liberal backlash to the conservative themes in this magnificent novel hurt James' career, and this book is rarely assigned in any public school curriculum.

James was a beautiful but prolix writer, who inspired another generation of authors including Edith Wharton. A general analysis of his work in Bartleby is as follows:[1]

"The stories of James tend to be records of seeing rather than of doing. The characters are more like patients than agents; their business seems to be to register impressions; to receive illumination rather than to make up their minds and set about deeds. But this is a way of conceiving our human business by no means confined to these novels; is it not more or less characteristic of the whole period in which James wrote? One passes by insensible degrees from the world of Renan to that of Pater and Swinburne, and thence to that of Oscar Wilde and of writers yet living, in whom the cult of impressions has been carried to lengths yet more extreme."

It might be of great profit to me; and now that I am older, that I have more time, that the labor of writing is less onerous to me, and I can work more at my leisure, I ought to endeavor to keep, to a certain extent, a record of passing impressions, of all that comes, that goes, that I see, and feel, and observe. (The Notebooks of Henry James -NHJ- p. 23)

His first novel was Watch And Ward (1871), One of the best of his earlier novels was The Portrait of a Lady (1881). Among his later novels were: What Maisie Knew (1897), The Awkward Age (1899), The Sacred Fount (1901), and The Golden Bowl (1904). His autobiography, A Small Boy And Others, appeared in 1913.

James was homeschooled by tutors.


“It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.”[2]

See also

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