Henry James Biography & Facts
Henry James ((1843-04-15)15 April 1843 – (1916-02-28)28 February 1916) was an American-British author. He is regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism, and is considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language. He was the son of Henry James Sr. and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James.
He is best known for his novels dealing with the social and marital interplay between émigré Americans, English people, and continental Europeans. Examples of such novels include The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove. His later works were increasingly experimental. In describing the internal states of mind and social dynamics of his characters, James often made use of a style in which ambiguous or contradictory motives and impressions were overlaid or juxtaposed in the discussion of a character's psyche. For their unique ambiguity, as well as for other aspects of their composition, his late works have been compared to impressionist painting.
His novella The Turn of the Screw has garnered a reputation as the most analysed and ambiguous ghost story in the English language, and remains his most widely adapted work in other media. He also wrote a number of other highly regarded ghost stories, and is considered one of the greatest masters of the field.
James published articles and books of criticism, travel, biography, autobiography, and plays. Born in the United States, James largely relocated to Europe as a young man, and eventually settled in England, becoming a British citizen in 1915, a year before his death. James was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, 1912, and 1916.
Early years, 1843–1883
James was born at 21 Washington Place in New York City on 15 April 1843. His parents were Mary Walsh and Henry James, Sr. His father was intelligent and steadfastly congenial. He was a lecturer and philosopher who had inherited independent means from his father, an Albany banker and investor. Mary came from a wealthy family long settled in New York City. Her sister Katherine lived with her adult family for an extended period of time. Henry, Jr. was one of four boys, the others being William, who was one year his senior, and younger brothers Wilkinson (Wilkie) and Robertson. His younger sister was Alice. Both of his parents were of Irish and Scottish descent.Before he was a year old, his father sold the house at Washington Place and took the family to Europe, where they lived for a time in a cottage in Windsor Great Park in England. The family returned to New York in 1845, and Henry spent much of his childhood living between his paternal grandmother's home in Albany, and a house on 14th Street in Manhattan. His education was calculated by his father to expose him to many influences, primarily scientific and philosophical; it was described by Percy Lubbock, the editor of his selected letters, as "extraordinarily haphazard and promiscuous." James did not share the usual education in Latin and Greek classics. Between 1855 and 1860, the James household travelled to London, Paris, Geneva, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Newport, Rhode Island, according to the father's current interests and publishing ventures, retreating to the United States when funds were low. Henry studied primarily with tutors, and briefly attended schools while the family travelled in Europe. Their longest stays were in France, where Henry began to feel at home and became fluent in French. He had a stutter, which seems to have manifested itself only when he spoke English; in French, he did not stutter.
In 1860, the family returned to Newport. There, Henry became a friend of painter John La Farge, who introduced him to French literature, and in particular, to Balzac. James later called Balzac his "greatest master", and said that he had learned more about the craft of fiction from him than from anyone else.In the autumn of 1861, James received an injury, probably to his back, while fighting a fire. This injury, which resurfaced at times throughout his life, made him unfit for military service in the American Civil War.In 1864, the James family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to be near William, who had enrolled first in the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard and then in the medical school. In 1862, Henry attended Harvard Law School, but realised that he was not interested in studying law. He pursued his interest in literature and associated with authors and critics William Dean Howells and Charles Eliot Norton in Boston and Cambridge, formed lifelong friendships with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the future Supreme Court justice, and with James T. Fields and Annie Adams Fields, his first professional mentors.
His first published work was a review of a stage performance, "Miss Maggie Mitchell in Fanchon the Cricket," published in 1863. About a year later, "A Tragedy of Error", his first short story, was published anonymously. James's first payment was for an appreciation of Sir Walter Scott's novels, written for the North American Review. He wrote fiction and nonfiction pieces for The Nation and Atlantic Monthly, where Fields was editor. In 1871, he published his first novel, Watch and Ward, in serial form in the Atlantic Monthly. The novel was later published in book form in 1878.
During a 14-month trip through Europe in 1869–70, he met John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, William Morris, and George Eliot. Rome impressed him profoundly. "Here I am then in the Eternal City," he wrote to his brother William. "At last—for the first time—I live!" He attempted to support himself as a freelance writer in Rome, then secured a position as Paris correspondent for the New York Tribune, through the influence of its editor, John Hay. When these efforts failed, he returned to New York City. During 1874 and 1875, he published Transatlantic Sketches, A Passionate Pilgrim, and Roderick Hudson. During this early period in his career, he was influenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne.In 1869, he settled in London, where he established relationships with Macmillan and other publishers, who paid for serial installments that they published in book form. The audience for these serialized novels was largely made up of middle-class women, and James struggled to fashion serious literary work within the strictures imposed by editors' and publishers' notions of what was suitable for young women to read. He lived in rented rooms, but was able to join gentlemen's clubs that had libraries and where he could entertain male friends. He was introduced to English society by Henry Adams and Charles Milnes Gaskell, the latter introducing him to the Travellers' and the Reform Clubs. He was also an honorary member of the Savile Club, St James's Club and, in 1882, the Athenaeum Club.In the fall of 1875, he moved to the Latin Quarter of Paris. Aside from two trips to America, he spent the next three.... Discover the Henry James popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Henry James books.