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Henry James Biography
Henry James (April 15, 1843 - February 28, 1916), younger brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James, was a British-American author of the late 19th and early 20th century, best known for novels and novellas based upon themes of morality. He favored internal, psychological drama; his work is frequently about alienation, his prose frequently serpentine. His earlier work is considered Realist, but in fact throughout his long career he maintained a strong interest in a variety of artistic effects and movements. In the late 20th century, many of James's novels were filmed by the team of Ismail Merchant & James Ivory, causing a small resurgence of interest in his works. Among the best known of these include the short works "Daisy Miller", "Washington Square", and "The Turn of the Screw", and the novels The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl, The Ambassadors, and The American.


James's prose style is frequently marked by long, periodical sentences and highly descriptive passages that defer the verb for a longer space than is usual. This somewhat florid prose style has been given many causes by biographers and critics of his work. Because James's style seems to change during his career from a straightforward style early on and a more languid style later, biographers have noted that the change of style occurred at approximately the time that James began employing an amenuensis. He was afflicted with a mild stutter. He overcame this by cultivating the habit of speaking very slowly and deliberately. Since he believed that good writing should resemble the conversation of an intelligent man, the process of dictating his works may account for a shift in style from direct to conversational sentences. The result was that his prose is at times baroque. (His friend Edith Wharton, who admired him greatly, admitted that there were some passages in his works which were almost incomprehensible.) His short fiction (such as "The Aspern Papers" and The Turn of the Screw) is often considered to be more readable to contemporary audiences than the longer novels, and early works tend to be more accessible than later ones.

For much of his life he was an expatriate, an outsider, living in Europe (much of The Portrait of a Lady was written while he lived in Venice, a city whose beauty he found distracting). This feeling of being an American in Europe came through as a recurring theme in his books, which contrasted American innocence (or a lack of sophistication) with European sophistication (or decadence) - see for example The Portrait of a Lady or The Golden Bowl.

He made only a modest living from his books, yet was often the houseguest of the wealthy. While not really one of them, James was able to observe them at close range. (He said he got some of his best story ideas from dinner table gossip.) He was a homosexual whose tastes and interests were rather feminine, yet who as a male could travel and act with an independence denied the women of his time. 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 because he was never a full member of any camp. (See The Bostonians, especially Verena's speech about always looking at the world from behind a sheet of glass.)

This analytical strain to his work is quite strong. It is possible to see many of his stories as psychological thought-experiments. The Portrait of a Lady might be an experiment to see what happens when an idealistic young woman suddenly becomes very rich; alternatively, it has been suggested that the storyline was inspired by Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection. The novella The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story that deals with the psychological impact on an unmarried (and possibly sexually repressed) young governess who stumbles into an ongoing tragic love affair complicated by the fact that the lovers are dead. His late novel The Wings of the Dove deals with the question of how far a woman in love will go to get what she wants and what it costs her when she does.

Major Works
Roderick Hudson (1875)
Transatlantic Sketches (1875)
The American (1877)
Daisy Miller (1878)
The Europeans (1878)
The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
Washington Square (1881)
A Little Tour in France (1884)
The Bostonians (1886)
The Princess Casamassima (1886)
"The Aspern Papers" (1888)
The Tragic Muse (1890)
Guy Domville (play, 1895)
The Spoils of Poynton (1897)
What Maisie Knew (1897)
The Turn of the Screw (1898)
In the Cage (1898)
The Awkward Age (1899)
The Wings of the Dove (1902)
The Ambassadors (1903)
"The Beast in the Jungle" (1903)
The Golden Bowl (1904)
English Hours (1905)
The American Scene (1907)
Italian Hours (1909)
 
Henry James Resources
 
 
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Henry James.