Article

Henry James

Deborah Wynne

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0036
Henry James

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Henry James (b. 1843–d. 1916), a prolific writer of fiction, travel writing, essays, book reviews, and plays, was one of the most influential writers of the 19th century. Born in New York, as a child he traveled extensively in Europe with his family. He came from a distinguished background: his father, Henry James Sr. (b. 1811–d. 1882), was a man of independent means, a religious philosopher and a writer; his elder brother William (b. 1842–d. 1910) became one of the most well-known American philosophers of the century; and his sister Alice (b. 1848–d. 1892) was a diarist. From 1876 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 (1877) and Daisy Miller (1878), 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 (1881), a fine study of female entrapment. Although commercial success eluded him, James’s skill as an artist and his experiments in style, particularly in later novels such as The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Ambassadors (1903), nevertheless brought him many admirers in intellectual and artistic circles. Although James’s work has been seen as a precursor to modernist style, many of his novels reveal his indebtedness to the major Victorian writers, particularly George Eliot and Charles Dickens. He had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances that included many of the leading writers, artists, and intellectuals of the period. Neither wholly American nor European, straddling the 19th and the 20th centuries, his literary style both “Victorian” and modernist, a brilliant critic, theorist, essayist, and reviewer, as well as a major writer of fiction, Henry James was also a man who conveyed a complex style of masculinity. James never married. 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 1916.

Article.  7421 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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