Henry James

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Henry James: Autobiography
Frederick W. Dupee; Henry James.
Criterion Books, 1956
A Henry James Encyclopedia
Robert L. Gale.
Greenwood Press, 1989
Henry James's Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw, and Other Tales
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1987
Librarian’s tip: This is a book of literary criticism
Daisy Miller and Other Stories
Henry James; Jean Gooder.
Oxford University Press, 1998
The Turn of the Screw: And Other Short Novels
Henry James.
New American Library, 1962
The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James.
Oxford University Press, 1998
The Wings of the Dove
Henry James; Peter Brooks.
Oxford University Press, 1984
Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene
Pierre A. Walker; Henry James.
University of Nebraska Press, 1999
Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James
J. Hillis Miller.
Fordham University Press, 2005
The Language of a Master: Theories of Style and the Late Writing of Henry James
David W. Smit.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1988
Henry James and the Father Question
Andrew Taylor.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure
Tessa Hadley.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Henry James and Queer Modernity
Eric Haralson.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator