Portrait of a Lady

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© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Isabel Archer
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1992
The Fatal Hero: Diana, Deity of the Moon, as An Archetype of the Modern Hero in English Literature
Gil Haroian-Guerin.
Peter Lang, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Four "Isabel Archer: The Hero of Tragedy"
Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure
Tessa Hadley.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "'Just You Wait!' Reflections on the Last Chapters of The Portrait of a Lady"
The Phenomenology of Henry James
Paul B. Armstrong.
University of North Carolina Press, 1983
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Freedom and Necessity: The Servile Will and The Portrait of a Lady"
The Comic Sense of Henry James: A Study of the Early Novels
Richard Poirier.
Oxford University Press, 1960
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "The Portrait of a Lady"
The Ordeal of Consciousness in Henry James
Dorothea Krook-Gilead.
Cambridge University Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "The Portrait of a Lady"
Henry James and the Language of Experience
Collin Meissner.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Bondage and Boundaries: Isabel Archer's Failed Experience"
Dreadful Games: The Play of Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel
Nancy Morrow.
Kent State University Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Playing by the Rules Henry James's The Americans and The Portrait of a Lady"
The Descent of Love: Darwin and the Theory of Sexual Selection in American Fiction, 1871-1926
Bert Bender.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Psychological Darwinism in The Portrait of a Lady"
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