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Monday, September 20, 2010

Henry James

Henry James Jr (1843-1916) was born in New York City to a wealthy clergyman of the same name who received a hefty inheritance from the latter's father.  The elder James believed in giving his family a cosmopolitan point of view and took them to Europe a year after Henry's birth, the first of many times Henry would cross the Atlantic during his youth.  In 1862, James attended Harvard to study law, but after a year he turned to writing and began publishing stories for serial publications, such as the Atlantic Monthly.  His first novel was Watch and Ward (1871), which tells of a bachelor who adopts a 12 year old girl and grooms her to marry him.  He moved to Paris in November 1875 to join the literary scene, but left for London a year later after being turned off by the lifestyle and philosophy of the French, particularly Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant.

James' writings can be divided into three period:  the first, roughly 1870s-mid 1880s, is made of novels that describe Americans living abroad in Europe, such as Roderick Hudson.  The second period, roughly mid 1880s-mid 1890s, consisted of novels attacking social issues, such as The Bostonians.  The final period, starting in the mid 1890s, adopted a psychological approach, as in What Maisie Knew and The Wings of the DoveThe Portrait of a Lady (1881) belongs to the first period.

In addition to his 20 completed novels, James also wrote numerous short stories and novellas, a few plays, and literary criticism, such as The Art of Fiction, which emphasized the analytical value of fiction.  Among the writers that influenced him were Balzac and Turgenev, as James valued their realistic approach as a writer who himself disliked romanticism.  His older brother William James likely also contributed to his later psychological period.

In The Portrait of a Lady James describes the journey of a young American girl to Europe and her desire to maintain her independence.  Nevertheless, she is forced to accept a destiny she, unknowingly, did not choose.

1 comment:

  1. hi my Name is Eliseo I'm from Mexico I adore victorian period, my favorite writer is henry james, but also like wilkie collins, Edith Wharton, etc. I'm presently reading CONFIDENCE by Henry James, in fact I'm reading all his works in chronological order. my email is cheo_hans_renfield@hotmail.com



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