"He was a subtle psychological realist, and an unsurpassed stylist and craftsman."
Henry James, as a young man set out to be a "literary master." His writing over the course of more than half a century was as a publishing author. He wrote tales, novellas, novels, plays, autobiographies, criticism, travel pieces, letters, reviews, and biographies which were altogether more than a hundred volumes. This amount was higher than even the nineteenth century standards. The recognition of his "intrinsic" importance as well as his extensive influence as a novelist and critic increased even more between the world wars when American literary taste reached a new level of sophistication. James is now decisively established, as one of America's major novelists and critics.
Henry James was born in New York City on April 5, 1843. His father was an unusual wealthy philosopher and religious visionary and his older brother William James was the first notable American psychologist and perhaps our country's most influential philosopher. He just completed this remarkable American family. When he was just an infant, he was taken to Europe. He spent his boyhood up to the age of twelve in New York City when once again the family left for Europe. His father wanted his children to have a rich "sensuous education." During the next four years, the children were taught in England, Switzerland, and France and taken to galleries, libraries, museums, and even theaters, Henry's formal schooling was unsystematic, but he mastered French well enough to begin a lifelong study of its literature. He attended Harvard Law School for a short period of time, but dedicated most of his time to literature after his short stories were published. From childhood on, he was aware of the European traditions of writings that later he comments American novelist had to do without.
James wrote by the end of his career 20 novels, 112 short stories, and 12 plays. Many of his stories focused on American living and his stories are known to have female protagonists. Henry James became a naturalized British subject out of impatience with America's unwillingness to enter World War I. James had involved himself in war-relief work starting in 1915 and 1916. On December 2, 1915, James suffered a stroke and died three months later in Rye on February 28, 1916.
Analyzing Henry James's writings:
Henry James developed what he described in A Small Bow and others published in 1913 as the "practice of wondering and dawdling and gaping." The memoir tells about an "obscure hurt" to his back which disqualified him from service in the Civil War. He told that it "must reinforced my inclination to observe rather than participate." During his teenage years, his interest in literature and writing intensified. By the time he was twenty one, he was publishing reviews and stories in some of the great American journals including: Atlantic Monthly , North American Review , Galaxy , and Nation . Though James did not decide to settle fully in England until 1876, the direction of his single minded career as "man of letters" was clearly marked in his early manhood. Before this time, he was traveling back and forth between America and Europe, all after a short residence in Italy and France. He never married. However, James maintained close ties with his family, kept up with a great deal of friends especially in the arts, and was very sociable. But he lived and worked alone. His emotional life and unusual creative energy were spent more than fifty years in what he called the "sacred rage" of his art.
James's biographer, Leon Edel divides his mature career into three parts. In the first, he published in 1881 The Portrait of a Lady , he directed it toward the international theme of the drama, comic, and tragic of Americans in Europe and occasionally of Europeans in America. In the second part, he dealt with social and political currents of the 1870's and 1880's writing for the theaters. Finally, he wrote shorter fictions that explored the relationships of artists to society as in The Great Good Place published in 1900. He also showed the troubled psychology of oppressed children and "haunted or obsessed" men and women depicted in The Jolly Corner published in 1908. In James's last period, he returned to international or cosmopolitan subjects in an astonishing series of developed novels, shorter fiction, and criticism.
Three of his earliest books: A Passionate Pilgrim (stories) (, Transatlantic Sketches (travel pieces), and Roderick Hudson (novel) were all published in 1875. The American published in 1877 was his first successful story and it described the naïve young American Christopher Newman in tension with traditions, customs, and values of the Old World. Daisy Miller published in 1878 was the work in which he achieved widespread popularity. In this "study" as it was originally subtitled, a naïve American girl pays for her willful resistance to European social traditions with her life. These stories make it clear that James was neither a sexist nor a resentful emigrant but a multi-ethnic person concerned to explore the American national character as it was tested with cultural displacement.
Despite their plea, the relatively simple characters of Daisy Miller and Christopher Newman make romance, melodrama, and pathos more than just a psychological complexity. In the character and career of Isabel Archer in The Portrait of the Lady , he found the focus for his first masterpiece with an international theme. His stories showed the complex inner lives of his American characters as realistically possible. Even in a short work of Daisy Miller , James's themes are evident. With this work, James's use of the limited point of view that make the main character Winterbourne who is limited by his self-absorbed anxieties and thus unable to see Daisy for who she is.
From 1885 to 1890, James wrote three novels: The Bostonians published in 1886, The Princess Casamassima published in 1886, and The Tragic Muse published in 1889. These stories are of reformers, radicals, and revolutionaries who were better appreciated in our time than they were in his. Out of a sense of artistic challenge as well as financial need, James wanted to get back the popularity of Daisy Miller by turning to a dramatist. Between 1890 and 1895, he wrote seven plays in which two were produced but neither were a success. He returned to writing fiction from 1895 to 1900. His three dominant subjects in his shorter stories usually combined were: misunderstood troubled writers and artists, ghosts and apparitions, and doomed or threatened adolescents and children. The Real Thing published in 1892 is an excellent example of a special kind of artistic dilemma. The Great Good Place tells the story of artist with a different kind of problem. Its main character George Dane dreams of the exhausting obligations that follow him after his success as a writer. George's wish was a simplified and peaceful life in the company of someone if only even for a few hours, his writings may have been parallel to his own life. The Jolly Corner for a quest a ego even in frightful and horrible times. The Beast in the Jungle published in 1903 shows the career of another egocentric man, one whose obsessive concern over himself destroys his chances for love and life in the present.
Following his own advice to other novelists to "dramatize, dramatize, dramatize," James in his stories removed himself as a narrator. In T.S Eliot's own words, he became invisible in his own work. The more the author was removed, the more the reader would have to figure out things.
"We are accustomed now to having our fiction thus "objectified."- Henry James
However in his last three great novels: The Wings of Dove published in 1902, The Ambassadors published in 1903, and The Golden Bowl published in 1904, he returned back to the narrative style. All three returned to the international theme, but it showed how people make their own realities through perceptions and impressions. Awareness of one's character would escape disaster! The world of these novels as one commentator remarked, like the very atmosphere of the mind. These dramas of "perception" were his greatest contributions to fiction as some believed.
When James was not writing fiction, he wrote about the lives of others. Some volumes by him, included French Poets and Novelist published in 1878, Partial Portraits published n 1888, and Notes on Novelists published in 1914. He also wrote his reviews or essays on individual writers, including The Art of Fiction published in 1884. It represents his critical side.
James was a very self-conscious writer. In his Complete Notebooks published and reedited in 1987 with an introduction by Leon Edel and Lyall Powers, it exposed his "intense mind in the act of discovering subjects, methods, and principles." He is also notable for his long detailed prefaces that provided an example of textual analysis and were used in the American English departments after World War I.
During the last years of his life, James traveled extensively and lectured in America and Canada. One of his most personal books was The American Scene published in 1907. It described the vast changes that occurred in America between the Civil War and World War I, later he characterized it as the "age of mistake." He wrote three autobiographical books in the end of his life, including A Small Boy and Others published in 1914, Notes of a Son and Brother published in 1914, and The Middle Years published in 1917.
Though he wrote everything from fiction to non-fiction, all his stories had extraordinary themes and the richness of syntax, characterization, point of view, symbolic resonance, metaphor, and organizing rhythms.
"Henry James." July 10, 2004. (www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl311/james.htm)
"Literature by Henry James." July 10, 2004. (http://www.online-literature.com/popup.php3)
"Henry James." July 10, 2004. (www.kirjasto.sci.fi/hjames.htm)
"The Portrait of a Lady." July 10, 2004. (www.newpaltz.edu/~hathaway/portrait1.html)
"What Henry James Saw." July 10, 2004. (www.romeartlover.it/James.html)