The Novels of Henry James (Annotated with Biography)

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From Henry James made his permanent home in England, although he regularly traveled to Europe, particularly Italy. Always committed to literature as an art form, James did not achieve the commercial success he sought, although his early works The American and Daisy Miller , both studies of innocent Americans encountering Europe for the first time, had come close to bringing him fame.

One of his major achievements as a novelist is The Portrait of a Lady , a fine study of female entrapment. He had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances that included many of the leading writers, artists, and intellectuals of the period. He had many female friends including in his later years the American novelist Edith Wharton and developed intense friendships with men. In recent years there has been much interest in his life and writings, especially speculation about his sexuality. It remains unclear whether he had homosexual tendencies. There is no doubt, however, that his primary devotion was to his art.

He became a British citizen a year before his death in There are many books devoted to the life and work of Henry James. Indeed, he remains an intriguing figure for critics, although his voluminous output means that few single books deal with the full range of his works. Recent theoretical approaches are evident in Freedman , Rawlings , and Zacharias , while Fogel offers students new to James detailed short chapters on a wide range of texts and themes.

The lists for further reading are particularly helpful. Gale remains useful and, while not a source of critical commentary, offers an easy-to-navigate text covering all aspects of the life and work. The Henry James Review , established in , publishes essays and reviews relating to all areas of Henry James studies. In recent years a number of useful websites devoted to the life and work of Henry James have emerged. The Center for Henry James Studies is based at Creighton University, and its website offers scholars a wealth of primary materials relating to James.

Center for Henry James Studies. Fogel, Daniel Mark, ed. A Companion to Henry James Studies. This book offers an extensive range of essays on the fiction, nonfiction, and life, as well as theoretical approaches to James.

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The appendices give a chronology of the published work in book form and include a helpful guide to critical work on James. The Cambridge Companion to Henry James.

Cambridge University Press, The two men chatted amiably and at length, as if they were the best of friends. It is often asserted that James's being a permanent outsider in so many ways may have helped him in his detailed psychological analysis of situations—one of the strongest features of his writing.

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He was never a full member of any camp. One would be in a position to appreciate James better if one compared him with the dramatists of the seventeenth century, Racine and Moliere, whom he resembles in form as well as in point of view, and even Shakespeare, when allowances are made for the most extreme differences in subject and form.

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These poets are not, like Dickens and Hardy, writers of melodrama- either humorous or pessimistic, nor secretaries of society like Balzac, nor prophets like Tolstoy: They do not indict society for these situations: They do not even blame God for allowing them: It is possible to see many of James's stories as psychological thought-experiments. The Turn Of the Screw describes the psychological history of an unmarried and, according to some critics, sexually repressed and possibly unbalanced young governess.

Author Henry James: Biography & Novels |

The unnamed governess stumbles into a terrifying, ambiguous situation involving her perceptions of the ghosts of a now-dead couple: Although any selection of James's novels as "major" must inevitably depend to some extent on personal preference, the following books have achieved prominence among his works in the views of many critics. The first period of James's fiction, usually considered to have culminated in Roderick Hudson is a bildungsroman that traces the development of the title character, an extremely talented sculptor.

Although the book shows some signs of immaturity—this was James's first serious attempt at a full-length novel, it has attracted favorable comment due to the vivid realization of the three major characters: Roderick Hudson, superbly gifted but unstable and unreliable; Rowland Mallet, Roderick's limited but much more mature friend and patron; and Christina Light, one of James's most enchanting and maddening femme fatales.

The pair of Hudson and Mallet has been seen as representing the two sides of James's own nature: Although Roderick Hudson featured mostly American characters in a European setting, James made the Europe—America contrast even more explicit in his next novel. In fact, the contrast could be considered the leading theme of The American This book is a combination of social comedy and melodrama concerning the adventures and misadventures of Christopher Newman, an essentially good-hearted but rather gauche American businessman on his first tour of Europe. Newman is looking for a world different from the simple, harsh realities of 19th century American business.

He encounters both the beauty and the ugliness of Europe, and learns not to take either for granted. James did not set all of his novels in Europe or focus exclusively on the contrast between the New World and the Old. Set in New York City, Washington Square is a deceptively simple tragicomedy that recounts the conflict between a dull but sweet daughter and her brilliant, domineering father. The book is often compared to Jane Austen's work for the clarity and grace of its prose and its intense focus on family relationships.

James was not particularly enthusiastic about Jane Austen, so he might not have regarded the comparison as flattering. In fact, James was not enthusiastic about Washington Square itself. He tried to read it over for inclusion in the New York Edition of his fiction —09 but found that he could not. So he excluded the novel from the edition. But other readers have enjoyed the book enough to make it one of the more popular works in the entire Jamesian canon. With The Portrait of a Lady James concluded the first phase of his career with a novel that remains to this day his most popular long fiction.

This impressive achievement is the story of a spirited young American woman, Isabel Archer, who "affronts her destiny" and finds it overwhelming. She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently becomes the victim of Machiavellian scheming by two American expatriates.

Set mostly in Europe, notably England and Italy, and generally regarded as the masterpiece of his early phase, this novel is not just a reflection of James's absorbing interest in the differences between the New World and the Old. The book also treats in a profound way the themes of personal freedom, responsibility, betrayal and sexuality. In the s James began to explore new areas of interest besides the Europe—America contrast and the "American girl". In particular, he began writing on explicitly political themes. The Bostonians is a bittersweet tragicomedy that centers on an odd triangle of characters: Basil Ransom, an unbending political conservative from Mississippi; Olive Chancellor, Ransom's cousin and a zealous Boston feminist; and Verena Tarrant, a pretty protege of Olive's in the feminist movement.

The story line concerns the contest between Ransom and Olive for Verena's allegiance and affection, though the novel also includes a wide panorama of political activists, newspaper people, and quirky eccentrics. The political theme turned darker in The Princess Casamassima , the story of an intelligent but confused young London bookbinder, Hyacinth Robinson, who becomes involved in radical politics and a terrorist assassination plot. The book is something of a lone sport in the Jamesian canon for dealing with such a violent political subject.

The Novels of Henry James (Annotated with Biography)

But it is often paired with The Bostonians, which is concerned with political issues in a less tragic manner. Just as James was beginning his ultimately disastrous attempt to conquer the stage, he wrote The Tragic Muse This novel offers a wide, cheerful panorama of English life and follows the fortunes of two would-be artists: Nick Dormer, who vacillates between a political career and his efforts to become a painter, and Miriam Rooth, an actress striving for artistic and commercial success.

A huge cast of supporting characters help and hinder their pursuits. The book reflects James's consuming interest in the theater and is often considered to mark the close of the second or middle phase of his career in the novel. After the failure of his "dramatic experiment" James returned to his fiction with a deeper, more incisive approach.

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He began to probe his characters' consciousness in a more insightful manner, which had been foreshadowed in such passages as Chapter 42 of The Portrait of a Lady. His style also started to grow in complexity to reflect the greater depth of his analysis. The Spoils Of Poynton , considered the first example of this final phase, is a half-length novel that describes the struggle between Mrs. Gereth, a widow of impeccable taste and iron will, and her son Owen over a houseful of precious antique furniture.

The story is largely told from the viewpoint of Fleda Vetch, a young woman in love with Owen but sympathetic to Mrs Gereth's anguish over losing the antiques she patiently collected. James continued the more involved, psychological approach to his fiction with What Maisie Knew , the story of the sensitive daughter of divorced and irresponsible parents. The novel has great contemporary relevance as an unflinching account of a wildly dysfunctional family.

The book is also a notable technical achievement by James, as it follows the title character from earliest childhood to precocious maturity. The third period of James's career reached its most significant achievement in three novels published just after the turn of the century. Mathiessen called this "trilogy" James's major phase, and these novels have certainly received intense critical study.

Although it was the second-written of the books, The Wings Of the Dove was the first published. This novel tells the story of Milly Theale, an American heiress stricken with a serious disease, and her impact on the people around her. Some of these people befriend Milly with honorable motives, while others are more self-interested.

NYSL: Michael Gorra on "Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece"

James stated in his autobiographical books that Milly was based on Minny Temple, his beloved cousin who died at an early age of tuberculosis. He said that he attempted in the novel to wrap her memory in the "beauty and dignity of art".

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The next published of the three novels, The Golden Bowl is a complex, intense study of marriage and adultery that completes the "major phase" and, essentially, James's career in the novel. The book explores the tangle of interrelationships between a father and daughter and their respective spouses.

The novel focuses deeply and almost exclusively on the consciousness of the central characters, with sometimes obsessive detail and powerful insight. James was particularly interested in what he called the "beautiful and blest nouvelle", or the longer form of short narrative. Still, he produced a number of very short stories in which he achieved notable compression of sometimes complex subjects.

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The following narratives are representative of James's achievement in the shorter forms of fiction. Just as the contrast between Europe and America was a predominant theme in James's early novels, many of his first tales also explored the clash between the Old World and the New. In "A Passionate Pilgrim" , the earliest fiction that James included in the New York Edition, the difference between America and Europe erupts into open conflict, which leads to a sadly ironic ending.

The story's technique still seems somewhat inexpert, with passages of local color description occasionally interrupting the flow of the narrative. But James manages to craft an interesting and believable example of what he would call the "Americano-European legend". James published many stories before what would prove to be his greatest success with the readers of his time, "Daisy Miller" This story portrays the confused courtship of the title character, a free-spirited American girl, by Winterbourne, a compatriot of hers with much more sophistication.

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His pursuit of Daisy is hampered by her own flirtatiousness, which is frowned upon by the other expatriates they meet in Switzerland and Italy. Her lack of understanding of the social mores of the society she so desperately wishes to enter ultimately leads to tragedy. As James moved on from studies of the Europe-America clash and the American girl in his novels, his shorter works also explored new subjects in the s.

He befriends his tutor, who is the only adult in his life that he can trust. James presents their relationship with sympathy and insight, and the story reaches what some have considered the status of classical tragedy. The final phase of James's short narratives shows the same characteristics as the final phase of his novels: Probably his most popular short narrative among today's readers, "The Turn of the Screw" is a ghost story that has lent itself well to operatic and film adaptation. With its possibly ambiguous content and powerful narrative technique, the story challenges the reader to determine if the protagonist, an unnamed governess, is correctly reporting events or is instead an unreliable neurotic with an overheated imagination.

To further muddy the waters, her written account of the experience, a frame tale, is being read many years later at a Christmas house party by someone who claims to have known her. The tale describes the adventures of Spencer Brydon as he prowls the now-empty New York house where he grew up.

Brydon encounters a "sensation more complex than had ever before found itself consistent with sanity. In his classic essay The Art Of Fiction , he argued against rigid proscriptions on the novelist's choice of subject and method of treatment. He maintained that the widest possible freedom in content and approach would help ensure narrative fiction's continued vitality. James wrote many valuable critical articles on other novelists; typical is his insightful book-length study of his American predecessor Nathaniel Hawthorne.

When he assembled the New York Edition of his fiction in his final years, James wrote a series of prefaces that subjected his own work to the same searching, occasionally harsh criticism. For most of his life James harbored ambitions for success as a playwright. He converted his novel Guy Domville failed disastrously on its opening night in James then largely abandoned his efforts to conquer the stage and returned to his fiction.

In his Notebooks he maintained that his theatrical experiment benefited his novels and tales by helping him dramatize his characters' thoughts and emotions. James produced a small but valuable amount of theatrical criticism, including perceptive appreciations of Henrik Ibsen. With his wide-ranging artistic interests, James occasionally wrote on the visual arts. Perhaps his most valuable contribution was his favorable assessment of fellow expatriate John Singer Sargent, a painter whose critical status has improved markedly in recent decades.