- Philip Horne
Henry James (1843–1916)
James, Henry (1843–1916), writer, was born on 15 April 1843 at 21 Washington Place in New York City, the second of the five children of Henry James (1811–1882), speculative theologian and social thinker, and his wife, Mary, née Walsh (1810–1882), daughter of James Walsh, a New York cotton merchant of Scottish descent, and his wife, Elizabeth Robertson Walsh. James was born into a remarkable family. His father, now usually known as Henry James senior, was fifth of the eleven children of William James (d. 1832) of Albany, New York, a strict Presbyterian and immigrant from co. Cavan in Ireland who had accumulated, first in the dry goods trade, then in banking and real estate, a sum reported as $3 million, one of the half-dozen largest American fortunes in his time. Henry James senior, who in the course of a wild and rebellious youth had suffered grave burns in an accident and lost his right leg above the knee, had quarrelled with his unyielding father and in 1833 successfully contested a punitive will in order to obtain a yearly income that has been estimated at between $10,000 and $12,500. He had entered the Princeton Theological School in 1835, but turned from its orthodox Calvinism, married Mary Walsh, the sister of a classmate, in 1840, and in 1844, at Windsor in England, suffered a revelatory breakdown. He later termed it a Swedenborgian 'vastation', a confrontation with 'some damnèd shape squatting invisible to me within the precincts of the room, and raying out from his fetid personality influences fatal to life' (Society the Redeemed Form of Man, 1879, 160–61). Henry James senior was thereafter inspired by the writings of Swedenborg, but refused fixed adherence to any particular Christian sect and investigated the thought of the French social utopist Charles Fourier. He returned to New York (spending periods staying with his mother and relatives at Albany) and in 1848 settled at 58 West Fourteenth Street. A friend of Emerson and Carlyle, he consolidated his life of lecturing and often unremunerated, sometimes controversial, writing on social and religious subjects.
Early life, 1843–1863
Henry James junior, as he was known until his father's death, had one elder brother, the remarkable psychologist and philosopher William James (1842–1910); his younger siblings were Garth Wilkinson (Wilky; 1845–1883), Robertson (Bob; 1846–1910), and the brilliant diarist and nearly lifelong invalid Alice (1848–1892). Before their restless father took them to Europe in 1855 for three years of further, peripatetic educational experiments, William and Henry James had already gone through at least ten schools and a dozen assorted teachers, many of them described in A Small Boy and Others, James's vivid memoir of 1913: an unnamed Russian lady, Miss Sedgwick, Mrs Lavinia D. Wright, Mlle Delavigne, M. Maurice Vergnès, Richard Puling Jenks, Mrs Daly, and Miss Rogers. The European quest took James and his siblings to tutors and schools in Geneva, London, Paris, and Boulogne—M. Lerambert, Mlle Augustine Danse, the Institution Fézandie, M. Ansiot, the Collège Impérial. In the course of this exposure James later recalled receiving an initiation into European culture, as in the Galerie d'Apollon of the Louvre, where he found 'a general sense of glory. The glory meant ever so many things at once, not only beauty and art and supreme design, but history and fame and power, the world in fine raised to the richest and noblest expression' (Autobiography, 361). In Boulogne in September 1857 James suffered a near-fatal bout of typhus fever, from which his convalescence took two months; his father described him at this time as 'a devourer of libraries' (Edel, Life, 43).
In summer 1858, after an economic depression in America which severely affected the family's income, Henry James senior brought them back to a new home in the refined artistic colony at Newport, Rhode Island, where they were soon neighbours to his friends Edmund and Mary Tweedy, who had adopted Henry James senior's orphaned Temple nieces. After another year of experimental education, from October 1859 to September 1860, in Geneva (the Institution Rochette) and then Bonn, the family returned to Newport, where they remained, at 13 Kay Street, until 1864. At the Revd W. C. Leverett's school James made friends with the equally bookish Thomas Sergeant Perry, future literary critic and historian, while in the studio of the French-trained William Morris Hunt, where William was studying painting, he made friends with the interesting artist and man of the world John La Farge, a reader of Balzac and Browning. From 1860, Perry recalled, the young James:
was continually writing stories, mainly of a romantic kind. The heroes were for the most part villains, but they were white lambs by the side of the sophisticated heroines, who seemed to have read all Balzac in the cradle and to be positively dripping with lurid crimes.Letters, ed. Lubbock, 1.8
Literary apprenticeship, 1864–1875
In the autumn of 1862 James enrolled in the Harvard law school, but did not last a full year. In 1863 he was drafted for army service in the civil war, in which his two younger brothers fought, but then was exempted by reason of physical disability—probably through a back strain incurred when helping to extinguish a fire in Newport in 1861. (In chap. 9 of Notes of a Son and Brother (1914) James calls the injury 'a horrid even if an obscure hurt', a phrase whose ambiguity has given rise to much excited speculation.) In May 1864 the whole James family moved to 13 Ashburton Place, Boston. In February 1864 the first of James's 112 short stories, 'A Tragedy of Error', was published anonymously in the short-lived Continental Monthly, while the first of his enormous tally of critical publications came out in October 1864 in the North American Review, edited by the Ruskinian scholar and art critic Charles Eliot Norton and the poet and critic James Russell Lowell. In March 1865 a second story, 'The Story of a Year', appeared under his name in the Atlantic Monthly, then edited by the Boston publisher James T. Fields, a magazine with which James was to have a long and close association. The young author thus knew early on several conveniently powerful literary figures; when Norton founded The Nation (New York) in 1865 with Edwin L. Godkin, a piece by James was in the first number.
During this period of extremely productive literary apprenticeship, James figured at first more notably as critic than as practitioner, specializing in contemporary French subjects and current Anglo-American fiction, though in 1868 he published six stories (three times what he had managed in any previous year) as well as fifteen reviews. In summer 1866 James met and became friendly with William Dean Howells, novelist, critic, and (luckily for James's career) influential editor. In November 1866 the James family moved again, to 20 Quincy Street, Cambridge, next to Harvard Yard. Between 1866 and 1868 William James and other friends travelled in Europe, leaving the Europhile James reading and writing in Cambridge.
Finally on 27 February 1869 James landed at Liverpool: his turn had come to be financed by the family, for the sake of his bad back and his troubled digestion as well as of his general culture. The well-connected Norton and the female members of his family, including his sister Grace, James's lifelong friend, were in London, and, lodging in Mayfair at 7 Half-Moon Street, James benefited from introductions to such London intellectuals as John Ruskin, William Morris, Leslie Stephen, Frederic Harrison, and Charles Darwin. He toured England and spent some time at Malvern for his constipation before returning to London, where he was charmed by meeting George Eliot, whose work he greatly admired. He spent the summer in Switzerland and in the autumn entered Italy, a country he rapturously enjoyed and which was to loom large in his work and his thinking about civilization. Poor health drove him back to Malvern, where on 26 March 1870 he received word from America of the sudden death, from consumption, of his much loved cousin Mary (Minny) Temple (1845–1870), on whom he based many of his American heroines. Still unwell, he reluctantly returned to the USA a month later, telling Grace Norton, 'It's a good deal like dying' (Letters, ed. Edel, 1.233). Forty-four years later he closed Notes of a Son and Brother by recalling Minny Temple's death as 'the end of our youth'.
James continued writing—tales, criticism, and now travel pieces (on American resorts) and art criticism (on Boston exhibitions)—and pining for Europe. In 1871 his first novel—Watch and Ward, a strange story in which a young girl's guardian becomes her awkward suitor—was published in the Atlantic (it did not appear as a book until 1878, and then in heavily revised form). In May 1872 James sailed to Liverpool, this time as companion to his sister, Alice, who was touring to recover from a nervous collapse in 1868, and their mother's sister Catherine Walsh, ‘Aunt Kate’. On this visit James wrote a series of travel pieces; for about the next ten years he produced a good deal of travel writing about Europe. He was also writing much short fiction. After seeing off Alice and Aunt Kate in October he went to Paris, and by the end of the year was in Rome, where he stayed until May. He spent the early summer in Switzerland, then went to Homburg in July and returned in October to Italy, where he was joined by his brother William (until February 1874).
It was in Florence in spring 1874 that James began the first novel he would acknowledge, his conscious début: Roderick Hudson, for Howells's Atlantic. Its ‘international’ story of an American sculptor and his sponsor in Rome derived much from preoccupations in Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860), but James's distinctive irony, elegance, and cosmopolitan ease lighten the serious themes of artistic vocation and emotional ambivalence. James returned to the USA in September 1874, but had still not finished the book when its serialization began in January 1875. He was at 111 East 25th Street, New York, for the winter when his first book, A Passionate Pilgrim, and other Tales, came out on 31 January 1875—followed on 29 April by Transatlantic Sketches, a collection of his travel writings, and in November by the book form of Roderick Hudson. He stayed in New York until July 1875 before returning for three months en famille at Quincy Street, writing fifty-eight pieces for the New York Nation that year.
The move to Europe and success in England, 1875–1881
James was becoming established as an expert on Europe, and on 11 November 1875 he arrived in the French capital, with an appointment as Paris correspondent for the New York Tribune. Settling at 29 rue de Luxembourg in the heart of Paris, he at once got to work on his Tribune letters—and also began another novel, The American, whose confident American millionaire hero, Christopher Newman, tries to marry into the French aristocracy and comes up against an exclusive old world of intrigues, duels, and unfamiliar social codes. While writing it James regularly attended the French theatres and especially the Comédie Française, and also came to know some of the major Parisian writers: Flaubert, Turgenev (of whom he was very fond), Edmond de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet, and Émile Zola. Most of these he had been reading for years, with on the whole a mixture of admiration for their artistic intensity and severe scepticism about their morality, especially in sexual matters. In June The American, much of which was still unwritten, started its run in the Atlantic, while James was short of material for the Tribune letters; by late July he was writing to his brother William that 'my last layer of resistance to a long-encroaching weariness and satiety with the French mind and its utterance has fallen from me like a garment' (Correspondence of William James, 1.271).
With the last instalment of The American completed, James crossed the English Channel on 10 December 1876 and quickly settled at 3 Bolton Street in Mayfair, his main residence until 1886. Five years later James recalled in a notebook entry that 'I took possession of London; I felt it to be the right place' (Notebooks, 218). Initiated through introductory letters from Norton, J. R. Lowell, and another American friend, the historian and political writer Henry Adams, James was soon a participant observer in London society, dining out constantly and paying many country visits. He was quickly on good terms with, for instance, T. H. Huxley, Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), the anthologist F. T. Palgrave, and the editor F. H. Hill, and met Gladstone, Tennyson, and Browning. Apart from a three-month absence in Paris and Italy in the autumn of 1877, James remained in London, busily writing: travel pieces about England, reviews, essays on French writers, and more fiction.
In February 1878 Macmillans published James's first critical volume, French Poets and Novelists, an event which marked the beginning of a long association between James and the English publisher. The middle of the year saw the first appearance of two of his freshest and most popular fictions. Daisy Miller, the controversial novella about a Europeanized American's comic, then quasi-tragic, misunderstanding of a defiantly innocent Schenectady girl in Europe, appeared (after rejection by Lippincott's Magazine of Philadelphia) in Leslie Stephen's Cornhill Magazine, James's first showing in a British periodical. It caused a stir in America, where James—whose earlier fiction, though acclaimed, had been criticized as over-analytic—was taken by some to be snobbishly anti-American in his portrayal of Daisy. At the same time The Europeans (1878), a brilliant comic short novel about the social and romantic adventures of a Europeanized brother and sister returning to their relations' somewhat aridly ascetic milieu in mid-century Boston, began its serial run in the Atlantic. In 1879 James published a short book on his predecessor, Hawthorne, for whose cosmopolitan tone he was attacked in his homeland, and the ironic story 'An International Episode', only his second piece of fiction to be set at all significantly in England, for some parts of which he was denounced by London critics. In the middle of the same year began the serial run of yet another short novel, Confidence, a somewhat schematic experiment about men testing women. By this point James could write humorously, to his brother William, that 'I have certainly become a hopeless, helpless, shameless (and you will add, a bloated,) cockney' (Correspondence of William James, 1.314–15). He told Howells about the same time, though with some exaggeration, that his fame, 'expanding through two hemispheres, is represented by a pecuniary equivalent almost grotesquely small' (Anesko, 134).
This was why James continued to produce at such a rate: to build up a sum sufficient to sustain him while writing a long and ambitious novel, projected for some years, The Portrait of a Lady, which would tell the comic, then darkening story of a generous, impulsive American girl, Isabel Archer, going to Europe, inheriting money, and being lured into marriage with a coolly malevolent fortune-hunter. By February 1880, with the aid of three months in Paris, he had written Washington Square, an American variation on Balzac's Eugénie Grandet, a painfully ironic domestic tragedy set in New York at about the place and time of James's birth. In mid-March 1880 James set about writing The Portrait of a Lady, first in Florence, then back in London—delaying a planned return trip to the USA in order to pursue it. The run, simultaneously in Macmillan's Magazine in England and in the Atlantic, which finally took fourteen instalments, began in October 1880, and James went to Venice to work on it from February to July 1881, not finishing until the end of August. Only in October 1881, then, could James embark for his postponed visit to America, returning to his homeland with a new celebrity. From the family home in Quincy Street he went down to New York and then to Washington, DC, where he planned to spend two or three months—only to be called back by news of his beloved mother's death on 29 January 1882. He stayed on in Boston, writing a dramatization of Daisy Miller—with a happy ending, but never produced—until May when he sailed back to England.
A difficult decade, 1882–1890
The rest of the decade held numerous disappointments for James. In mid-September 1882 he left London again for the six-week excursion through rainy French provinces that became A Little Tour in France (1884). Shortly after returning he received news of the last illness of his father, and arrived in the USA shortly before Christmas, just too late for the funeral on 21 December. As his father's executor, he stayed on in the small house on Mount Vernon Street to which his widowed father and sister had moved earlier in the year. Howells's provocative essay of November 1882, 'Henry James, jr.', declaring the 'art of fiction' as exemplified by James 'a finer art in our day than it was with Dickens and Thackeray', raised a stir around James both in America and England; such praise made him an easy target for literary and political proponents of other values (such as Theodore Roosevelt). Back in London at the end of August 1883, James began on The Bostonians, his large, ‘realist’, enduringly controversial American novel about ideological conflict in 1870s America, focused as the fierce struggle for the spirit of a gifted young girl. The antagonists are an ardent young Boston spinster seeking intense female friendship and comradeship in the suffrage cause, and a reactionary male lawyer who fought for the defeated south and who wants the girl to acknowledge the domestic satisfactions of traditional marriage as the highest form of female fulfilment.
In February 1884 James was in Paris, seeing something of Daudet, Goncourt, and Zola, the French ‘Realists’, and declared, in a letter to Howells, his interest in
the effort & experiment of this little group, with its truly infernal intelligence of art, form, manner—its intense artistic life. They do the only kind of work, to-day, that I respect; & in spite of their ferocious pessimism & their handling of unclean things, they are at least serious and honest.Anesko, 243
About this time James made or developed some of his most important artistic friendships: with Edmund Gosse, for instance, a literary ally with whom he remained in close contact until his death; with John Singer Sargent, whom he met in Paris and whom he took trouble to launch on his London career as a portraitist; with Robert Louis Stevenson, who retorted in print to James's 1884 polemic 'The art of fiction', and became a valued intimate until his premature death in the South Seas; with the French novelist and critic Paul Bourget, against whose increasing right-wing snobbery James finally revolted; with Constance Fenimore Woolson, a somewhat deaf and earnest American novelist in Europe whose admiration for James may have led her to entertain hopes of marriage; and with George Du Maurier, illustrator for Punch and novelist, whom James liked to visit in Hampstead.
In the spring of 1884 James wrote 'The author of “Beltraffio”', probably basing it on what he knew about the marital situation of J. A. Symonds. It is unclear whether, when James wrote this, the first of a series of brilliant tales of authors and the literary life, he yet knew of Symonds's tormented homosexuality. Late in 1884 James wrote to his friend Grace Norton that 'I shall never marry … I am both happy enough and miserable enough, as it is, and don't wish to add to either side of the account' (Letters, ed. Edel, 3.55). Whatever his sexual preferences—as to which there has been much vexed speculation, though little firm evidence survives—James's decision to live as a solitary bachelor clearly fitted in with his high sense of artistic mission (and consequent commercial risk). From November 1884, also, he had taken on responsibility for his invalid sister, Alice, who came to be near him in England. In 'The Lesson of the Master' (1888), James elaborated on art and marriage: the 'master' of fiction in the tale has compromised his artistic integrity, churning out second-rate novels unworthy of his gifts, in order to sustain the high bourgeois comfort of his demanding wife and children—and this cautionary figure himself warns the aspiring young writer who is James's hero to avoid the same trap.
Before he finished The Bostonians, which came out at twice the length contracted, James was already in December 1884 doing research at Millbank prison on the Thames for another realist novel, set among London anarchists, his first with no major American characters—The Princess Casamassima. Its fourteen-month publication in the Atlantic began, in September 1885, before the thirteen months of The Bostonians in The Century had ended. 1885 was a bad and busy year for James: in the spring his American publisher J. R. Osgood & Co. went into receivership. James managed to retain the copyright and The Bostonians was published by Macmillans in Britain and America (as was The Princess Casamassima), but he lost financially, forfeiting the large serialization fee. In May he had to borrow $1000 from his brother William to cover current expenses. Neither of these grandly conceived, exhaustingly composed novels was a critical or financial success.
In November 1885 James took a fourth-floor residential flat in Kensington on a long lease, at 34 De Vere Gardens; when he moved in on 6 March 1886 he was still working on The Princess Casamassima, which expanded so that he had to take an extra (unremunerated) instalment and did not finish until July. In December 1886 he went to Italy, where he stayed until late July 1887—visiting Florence and Venice, where he wrote a good number of short works, including 'The Aspern papers' (1888), his celebrated tale of a comically unscrupulous editor scheming to get his hands on a long dead poet's love letters. But the magazines—as if demand for James had been satiated by the two sprawling novels—delayed to publish them. Only one piece of fiction by James was published in 1887, and in January 1888 he confided to Howells that 'I have entered upon evil days' (Anesko, 266). About this time he entered into an arrangement with the pioneering literary agent Alexander Pollock Watt, who handled the affairs of best-selling authors such as Rider Haggard and Walter Besant.
Once back in London, James had begun another novel, The Tragic Muse, serialized from January 1889 until May 1890. Intended initially to be half the length of The Princess Casamassima, it was in the end even longer. Having put it aside to write The Reverberator (1888), a satire on the new journalistic culture of ‘personalities’ and the threat to privacy, James reconceived it as intertwining two stories, one about the career of an actress, one about a painter who has to confront the opposition of his whole circle and his own doubts about his talent in order to sacrifice a political career and gamble on his vocation. He went to the continent to write—Switzerland, Italy, Paris—in the autumn of 1888. He confessed at this time to his brother William his fatigue with the territory of 'International' contrasts for which he had become known, declaring:
I aspire to write in such a way that it wd. be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am, at a given moment, an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America (dealing as I do with both countries,) & so far from being ashamed of such an ambiguity I should be exceedingly proud of it, for it would be highly civilized.Correspondence of William James, 2.96
1890 brought a new crisis—Macmillans, out of pocket by James's two previous novels, offered a considerably less advantageous contract for the book version of The Tragic Muse, and only Watt's intervention secured a tolerable compromise.
The theatrical years, 1890–1895
By this time James, because of the difficulties in sustaining his income for fiction, had already turned to the theatre, the field in which for several years he sought success. He had already begun a dramatization of his early novel The American for Edward Compton's Compton Comedy Theatre, all four acts of which were written by April 1890. In the summer of 1890 James again travelled in Italy, as he did in 1892, and on his return he threw himself into the theatre, rewriting The American to fit Compton's requirements and involving himself closely in the production, which opened fairly successfully at Southport on 3 January 1891, then toured the provinces. It received a London première on 26 September 1891, with the pregnant Mrs Compton replaced as the heroine by the remarkable American actress Elizabeth Robins, later a good friend of James. The London critics were respectful, but the run lasted for only seventy performances. (In 1892 James wrote a new final act with an even happier ending to please the Comptons' usual provincial audiences.) During the period that followed, this solitary novelist tried to immerse himself in the collaborative world of the theatre, and projected many plays for different managements and performers, including the American impresario Augustin Daly, only to suffer repeated frustrations. He wrote several more than were ever produced—simultaneously composing a number of short stories, some for Henry Harland's new magazine the Yellow Book, in order to bring in an income.
In Paris from March until May 1893, James began a more serious play for the Comptons, concerned with a Catholic hero who renounces the priesthood to save his aristocratic family, then finds that he can make himself happy only at the expense of others and, sacrificing his own interests, returns to his original vocation. The renunciatory ending of Guy Domville put off the Comptons, and the play was taken on by the actor–manager George Alexander, and opened at the St James's Theatre on 5 January 1895 in what was the culmination for James of five years' effort in the theatre. He described to William the events after the curtain fell:
all the forces of civilization in the house waged a battle of the most gallant, prolonged & sustained applause with the hoots & jeers & catcalls of the roughs, whose roars (like those of a cage of beasts at some infernal ‘Zoo’) were only exacerbated (as it were!) by the conflict. It was a charming scene, as you may imagine, for a nervous, sensitive, exhausted author to face.Correspondence of William James, 2.337
It was reported that rivals had been targeting Alexander, but James's play was the victim, being replaced after thirty-one performances by Alexander's triumphant opening of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Earnest. The catastrophic arrest of this rival on 5 April 1895 for 'committing unnatural acts' was probably not a consolation.
The return to fiction, 1895–1899
This set-back was the end of James's real theatrical campaign, though he tried again over a decade later and had some minor successes. He returned to fiction with relief, and with a new formal discipline (about scenic construction and the preparation of effects) that gave an experimental edge to his subsequent work. James's enforced awareness of the possible gulf between aesthetic and commercial success gave his tales of the artistic life a darkly ironic, rueful tone. One story in Terminations (1895), 'The Altar of the Dead', the tale of a man obsessed with the commemoration of the dead, who are so quickly forgotten in modern London, suggests the effect on James of a terrible succession of personal losses in the preceding years. In March 1888 his old Bostonian friend the painter Lizzie Boott Duveneck had died of pneumonia in Paris, aged forty-two. The young American author Charles Wolcott Balestier, an agent for James in his theatrical affairs, died at twenty-nine of typhoid in Dresden on 6 December 1891 (James went there for the funeral). J. R. Lowell died on 12 August 1891. Alice James, after a painful decline during which she was comforted by James, died of breast cancer on 6 March 1892. The grand old actress and author Fanny Kemble, a long-standing friend, died in 1893. Constance Fenimore Woolson distressingly fell to her death in Venice on 24 January 1894, an apparent suicide. Stevenson died of his tuberculosis in Samoa on 3 December 1894—a blow deeply felt by James.
James made something of a fresh start in 1895: he took up cycling, and began a new phase of fictional productivity. He faced a changed publishing scene, one where many journals appealed to a new mass readership impatient of Jamesian nuance, but also where a new self-consciously refined minority audience, awakened by Ruskin, Pater, Ibsen, Flaubert, Zola, and Tolstoy, was primed for more ‘advanced’ or difficult art, such as that appearing in the Yellow Book or the Chap-Book of Chicago. James re-established contact with his old journal the Atlantic, which had woundingly rejected the story 'The Pupil' in 1890, and wrote for it The Spoils of Poynton (1897, serialized in 1896). The novel concerns a crisis of cultural inheritance: its heroine is caught in the middle when a passionate appreciator of the accumulated treasures of a country house schemes ruthlessly to save them from falling into the hands of philistines. For the Illustrated London News, an unusually popular paper for him, James next turned an unproduced, Ibsen-like play, The Other House, into a passably sensational novel (1896). To write it, under a looming deadline, he rented a hilltop bungalow in Sussex—Point Hill, Playden, Rye—from May 1896, and when his three months expired was so enchanted by the area he took the vicarage in Rye for two further months. When he returned to London he had already begun What Maisie Knew (1897), an imaginative triumph and a technical tour de force which takes a topical subject—the possibly damaging effect of divorce on a young child—and renders it from the girl's own point of view.
Trouble with a rheumatic wrist forced James in February 1897 to engage a shorthand stenographer, William MacAlpine. In September 1897 he found that the lease of Lamb House, Rye, a charming redbrick Georgian house he had already admired, was available for £70 a year, and took it on, moving in late in June 1898. By May 1898 James, still justifiably anxious about marketability, had signed up for aid in placing his latest crop of works with a new literary agent, the discreet and reliable James Brand Pinker, who became agent also for Conrad, Wells, and Ford Madox Hueffer, all James's neighbours in Sussex. In 1898 James published a brilliant novella, In the Cage, about a young female telegraphist piecing together the intrigues of her upper-class clients, for whom she barely exists; and also one of his great successes, the terrifying and unsettling 'The Turn of the Screw', about the apparent haunting of a governess's young charges by a pair of ghostly servants who may have contaminated their innocence (he had got the germ of the story from Edward White Benson, the archbishop of Canterbury, father of James's friend A. C. Benson). Innocence compromised also dominates James's next novel, The Awkward Age (1899, serialized 1898–9), the study, mainly in dialogue, of double standards, bad faith, and malign manipulation in the social circle of a very 'modern' London family. Like much of his work at the period, it was denounced by critics as unpleasant, morbid, and difficult.
After a trip to Europe in spring 1899, James carried on writing at Rye. In August 1899 the freehold of Lamb House became available for £2000 (in fact, £750 and an undertaking to pay the interest on £1250 in mortgages). James leapt at the chance. He let his London flat for a year (later getting rid of the lease) and in December 1900 obtained a bed-sitting-room attached to the Reform Club at 105 Pall Mall. Financially nervous—he wrote to a friend of an 'economic crisis' (Letters, ed. Edel, 4.128)—in the autumn of 1899 James projected several different novels for various publishers and editors, redoubling his creative efforts. When The Soft Side, containing twelve stories, appeared in August 1900 James had already written at least four of those that would feature in The Better Sort (1903). At the start of 1900 he was unable to complete The Sense of the Past, a fantastic and complex short novel whose antiquary American hero finds himself transported back to Regency London, and he seems to have made a start on The Wings of the Dove, before a short story about emotional vampirism grew into an elaborately fanciful full-length novel, The Sacred Fount (published 1901). In May 1900, to meet the new century, James shaved off the now greying beard he had worn for decades.
The 'major phase', 1900–1904
James was now in what F. O. Matthiessen later called his 'major phase', writing in a high, idiosyncratic style characterized by abstraction, ambiguity, dramatic intensity, and unusual demands on the reader's attention. By October 1900 he was working, for Harper's North American Review, on another long-projected novel, The Ambassadors, an ironic, melancholy, elegant epic of benign misapprehension centring on the epistemological vicissitudes of a fifty-five-year-old New Englander sent on a questionable mission to Paris. He did not finish until the middle of 1901, leaving him only two months before the deadline for delivery of his next contracted novel, The Wings of the Dove, to Constable. He asked for an extension until the end of 1901, but in fact, partly because of illness, took until 21 May 1902 over the tragic story, which looks back to James's long dead cousin Minny Temple in its heroine, a fatally ill American heiress who goes to Europe to ‘live’ before dying and becomes ensnared in a conspiratorial love triangle. He then wrote several more very long stories for The Better Sort, a collection which was already at 60,000 words. After this he took up again, and completed by March 1903, a project contracted for several years earlier, William Wetmore Story and his Friends, an evocative memorial volume undertaken at the request of the Story family about the mid-century circle of a well-connected (though in James's view artistically negligible) American sculptor and poet living in Rome.
The last of the three novels of the 'major phase', The Golden Bowl, was one of two James contracted in April 1903 to deliver by 1904 (the other, The Sense of the Past again, never materialized). He also agreed at this time to write a book for Macmillans, a study to be entitled London Town, which despite much research by reading and by walking never got beyond notes. Having begun The Golden Bowl in April 1903, he did not finally complete it until mid-July 1904. The novel, a tragi-comic multi-faceted story of fortune hunting and adultery, of emotional and financial pressures in the cosmopolitan world of rich Americans in Europe, is in many ways the poetic culmination of James's development, recapitulating themes from his earlier works and achieving a rare complexity in its intricately symmetrical and ironic plotting. All three of James's last major novels confront readers as well as protagonists with situations of high emotional and intellectual difficulty, where sexual betrayal and deep-laid schemes are 'wonderfully' dissimulated beneath glamorous, seductive surfaces of civilized good feeling. In them James counts the cost, often tragic, of the civilization he so values, facing with analytic passion the new configurations of the modern world.
The American Scene, and the New York Edition, 1905–1909
Henceforth James's work took on a more retrospective, elegiac tinge. On 24 August 1904 he sailed for New York, twenty-one years after his previous visit, making a trip to his much-changed homeland that was to be financed by a book of travel impressions and (a fresh departure) lecturing. He spent time with his brother William's family at Chocorua, New Hampshire, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and with his recent but close friend Edith Wharton at Lenox, Massachusetts, but 'the restless analyst', as he called himself in The American Scene (1907), saw also New York, Philadelphia, Washington, the south, St Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He was back in Lamb House in mid-July 1905, simultaneously writing The American Scene, a dense, brilliant work meditating on America's cultural future, and beginning what would be several years of labour on the monumental New York Edition of the Novels and Tales of Henry James, for which Pinker had negotiated with Scribner, and which eventually appeared between 1907 and 1909 in twenty-four volumes. He selected the works for inclusion (omitting for instance The Europeans, Washington Square, and The Bostonians), intensively revised the earlier ones in particular, collaborated on illustrations with the young American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, and wrote the extraordinary prefaces, now classic reflections on the novelist's craft. In October 1905 appeared the revised collection of travel essays, English Hours, a model for Italian Hours, published in October 1909.
In April 1901 MacAlpine had moved on and been replaced as James's secretary–typist by Mary Weld, who commented, 'He dictated beautifully … Typewriting for him was exactly like accompanying a singer on the piano' (Montgomery Hyde, 152). She married in 1905 during his absence, and in August 1907 James took on Theodora Bosanquet, who knew and admired his fiction, kept a splendid diary, and later wrote a vivid memoir, Henry James at Work (1924). In 1908 a play, The High Bid, was produced at Edinburgh by Johnston Forbes-Robertson; James was under constant pressure from Scribner about the edition, and also from Harper, to whom he had promised at least one novel—but was also in need of some less deferred payment. In 1908 his literary income was his lowest for twenty-five years. Unfortunately, as Pinker and Scribner discovered too late, the complicated contractual compromises needed to secure use of James's works for the edition from his many publishers prevented the making of profits at all commensurate to the effort James had put in.
Disappointment, illness, America, 1909–1911
This financial disappointment, following years of fairly unremitting effort and a punitive dietary regime according to the system of Horace Fletcher, precipitated minor heart trouble in January 1909. This prevented James's tackling a full-length novel, though he kept at work on further theatrical projects (which, as before, came to little). Early in 1910, more seriously, James was in a state of nervous collapse with digestive problems, and his brother William came over with his wife Alice, despite William's own long-established, and worsening, heart condition. James suffered a series of relapses, and chronic depression, but William went into a dramatic decline. The two brothers travelled back to New Hampshire together only for the elder to die a week later on 26 August. In October 1910 there appeared a final collection of short stories, The Finer Grain. James stayed on in Cambridge, Massachusetts, turning one of his rejected plays into a novel (The Outcry, 1911). He sailed back to England only in August 1911.
James set to work in London that autumn (avoiding the lonely Rye winters) on what was initially conceived, following conversations with William's widow, as a single family book dealing mainly with William. The project became first A Small Boy and Others (1913), a richly associative and imaginative recreation of the complicated family world in which James and his brother William had their childhood (up to James's twelfth year or so). Then in Notes of a Son and Brother (1914), making more use of family letters, James brought the account of his father and William up through adolescence and young adulthood to 1870. The difficult, self-reflexive manner of the books, their poetic interest and pleasure in the working of memory, and their constant reversion to the autobiographical make them unique in their kind. They were accorded a warm critical reception.
On 26 June 1912 James received an honorary doctorate at Oxford. On 2 October, just before coming down with agonizing shingles which lasted into 1913, he took a flat at 21 Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, moving in at the new year. A Small Boy and Others was published just in time for his seventieth birthday on 15 April 1913, marked by his British friends with a subscription for a portrait by Sargent (now in the National Portrait Gallery). He sent the publishers Notes of a Son and Brother on 6 November; it came out in March 1914, by which time he was at work on another novel, probably The Ivory Tower (posthumously published, 1917), which he never completed. He also began in 1914 a third volume of memoirs, never to be finished, and posthumously published as The Middle Years (1917).
When the First World War broke out in August, James became passionately engaged with the British cause; he was involved in charitable work for Belgian refugees, later visiting wounded soldiers in hospital. His last collection of essays, Notes on Novelists, came out in October 1914. In November he returned to the abandoned The Sense of the Past, feeling the present an impossible subject in the shadow of war. He became honorary president of the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps, and wrote a number of pieces towards the war effort (collected posthumously in Within the Rim, 1919), as well as a long preface to Letters from America (1916) by his young friend Rupert Brooke, who had died on 23 April 1915. In July 1915 James, partly in protest at America's refusal to enter the war, applied for naturalization in Britain, sponsored by J. B. Pinker, Edmund Gosse, George Prothero, the editor of the Quarterly Review, and H. H. Asquith, the prime minister. He took the oath of allegiance on 26 July, to acclaim in Britain and some hostile reaction in the USA. Earlier in the month his uneasy relations with his younger friend H. G. Wells, following the attack on James in Wells's satire Boon (1915), had ended with a significant exchange of letters about the principles of literary art.
On 30 July 1915 James was again taken ill with what he told Edith Wharton was 'an interminable gastric crisis of the most vicious and poisonous order' (Henry James and Edith Wharton: Letters, 354). He suffered a stroke on 2 December, and thereafter was confused about his whereabouts, though able to be pleased at being appointed to the Order of Merit in the new year's honours of 1916. He died at home at 21 Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, on 28 February 1916, and by his own wish was cremated, at Golders Green. The funeral was in Chelsea Old Church; James's sister-in-law smuggled his ashes back to America and buried them in the family plot in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His estate, valued at less than £9000 (exclusive of his share in the family properties in Syracuse), was left to his sister-in-law and thereafter to her children.
In politics James was liberal, in religion, seemingly unaligned, and certainly a follower of his father in strong anti-clerical feeling. He lived an extraordinarily full social life. On the other hand, Desmond MacCarthy, struck by James's human detachment, reported him as saying that writing 'is absolute solitude' (Nowell-Smith, 127). His dual role, as immersed social observer and as eremitic devotee of high art, allowed him during more than five decades to produce a vitally developing œuvre extraordinarily varied both in subject and in treatment, straddling Victorian, Edwardian, and modernist literary periods, and American, French, and British literary cultures.
Although James's work never attained the wide appeal achieved by some of his friends like Robert Louis Stevenson, George Du Maurier, Mrs Humphry Ward, Edith Wharton, H. G. Wells, Owen Wister, and Hugh Walpole, it has always had a core of influential admirers. On his death James was admiringly commemorated by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, like him American expatriates who made an enormous mark on British literature and culture. James was indeed a strong influence on Eliot's early poetry. His achievement also affected the writing of his friend Edith Wharton, above all in The Reef (1912), as well as that of Ford Madox Ford, especially in The Good Soldier (1914). Ford had just written Henry James: a Critical Study (1913), which Tony Tanner called 'the first really important book on James' (Tanner, 21). One can trace James's influence too in later writers, among them Graham Greene, W. H. Auden, Marguerite Yourcenar, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Anita Brookner, Barbara Vine, David Lodge, and Kazuo Ishiguro. James has also been important for writers inhabiting worlds more strikingly different from his own, including William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, and Toni Morrison.
On criticism James has exerted a powerful force, both through the example of his fiction, which was first analysed in detail by Joseph Warren Beach in The Method of Henry James (1918), and through his brilliant, theoretically astute critical output. There was an early flowering in a highly Jamesian treatise, The Craft of Fiction (1921) by Percy Lubbock, a young friend of James's later years who edited The Letters of Henry James in 1920. James's importance was granted even by some of those unsympathetic to his approach, like E. M. Forster in his very successful Aspects of the Novel (1927), who claimed James's formal preoccupations led him to sacrifice 'human life'. But attacks on him as a mandarin or élitist writer, or from nationalist American critics like Van Wyck Brooks whose The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925) deplored James's expatriation, kept James's reputation at a low ebb in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1934 the magazine Hound and Horn devoted a special issue to James, with contributors including Newton Arvin, R. P. Blackmur, Marianne Moore, Stephen Spender, and Edmund Wilson. To meet the more political bent of the times, several of the writers stressed James's power as a social critic rather than, as had been the earlier tendency, his aesthetic mastery. In 1936 Graham Greene in an essay called 'The private universe' saw something else in James, 'a sense of evil religious in its intensity', and declared, 'He is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare in the history of poetry.' With the centenary of James's birth in 1943 the poet, critic, and editor Robert Penn Warren devoted a number of the Kenyon Review entirely to James, while an essay in the same year by Philip Rahv in New Republic described James as 'at once the most and least appreciated figure in American writing'. From this time on there was an ever-increasing flood of writing about James, and major critics like F. O. Matthiessen in America (in Henry James: the Major Phase, 1944) and F. R. Leavis in Britain (in The Great Tradition, 1948) took his achievement very seriously indeed. With the appearance of Leon Edel's five-volume biography between 1953 and 1972, and the reprinting of much of James's work (much of it by Edel, who became the leading figure in James studies), the centrality of James in the modern literary canon was established. Further biographies have followed, by Fred Kaplan (Henry James: the Imagination of Genius: a Biography, 1992) and Sheldon M. Novick (Henry James: the Young Master, 1996), as well as countless biographical studies of aspects of James's life and work. Edel also published many of James's letters (in a selection of 1956, then in four volumes published between 1974 and 1984), though in 2001 it was estimated that two-thirds of the novelist's correspondence remained unpublished. Testimony to James's academic status lies in the existence of a large international Henry James Society (based in the USA), and a thriving journal, the Henry James Review, as well as numerous websites.
Adaptations of James's work in various forms have proliferated. Despite the relative failure of James's own plays in the theatre, there have been many adaptations of his fiction, one of the more cogent early instances being John L. Balderston's and J. C. Squire's version of the unfinished The Sense of the Past as Berkeley Square in 1928, which was filmed twice (as Berkeley Square by Frank Lloyd in 1933, and later as I'll Never Forget You by Roy Ward Baker in 1951). The Heiress, a bold reworking of Washington Square by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, was immensely successful both as a play in 1947 and in William Wyler's 1949 film starring Ralph Richardson, who had played Dr Sloper in the play's London run, and Olivia de Havilland. In 1959 Michael Redgrave acted with Flora Robson and Beatrix Lehmann in his own subtle adaptation of The Aspern Papers.
Less surprising than it might seem, given the prominence of psychological processes in James's fiction, is the number of operatic versions, the earliest being Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw (1954). Britten also adapted the tale 'Owen Wingrave' as an opera for television in 1970. Other notable uses of James have included those of Thea Musgrave in The Voice of Ariadne (1974), an adaptation of 'The last of the Valerii', and Dominick Argento in The Aspern Papers, which received its première on the same night as Philip Hageman's opera based on the same work, 19 November 1988 (the centenary of the novella's original publication in the Atlantic Monthly).
The most influential medium for diffusing James's œuvre since 1945, albeit mostly without James's own subtlety, has been the screen, cinematic and televisual. The rise of Freudianism in America after the Second World War found material in James's interest in psychology, as seen in The Heiress and Martin Gabel's very free Freudian variation on The Aspern Papers in The Lost Moment (1947). Jack Clayton's British film The Innocents (1961) with Deborah Kerr, a fevered adaptation of 'The Turn of the Screw' by Truman Capote and William Archibald, also played up James's melodramatic side. But it was BBC television, broadcasting in the leisurely evenings of the 1960s and 1970s, that adapted James's full-length fiction with least distortion, the highlights being James Cellan Jones's serializations of The Portrait of a Lady (1968) and especially The Golden Bowl (1972), both four-and-a-half hours long—though in 1977 he and the writer Denis Costanduros produced The Ambassadors as a brilliant ninety-five-minute dramatization in the series Play of the Month, with Paul Scofield, Lee Remick, and Delphine Seyrig.
James returned to the cinema in the 1970s with Peter Bogdanovich's serious and thoughtful Daisy Miller (1974), and The Europeans (1979) by Ismael Merchant and James Ivory, an early manifestation of the ‘heritage’ cinema that flourished in the 1980s. They followed it with The Bostonians (1984), featuring Christopher Reeve and Vanessa Redgrave, and after a gap renewed their engagement with James in a (more fluent) version of The Golden Bowl (2000) with Nick Nolte, Uma Thurman, and Kate Beckinsale. At the end of the twentieth century James succeeded Jane Austen in the fashion for film adaptations of classic authors: hence Jane Campion's controversial The Portrait of a Lady (1996) with Nicole Kidman; Iain Softley's equally revisionary The Wings of the Dove (1997) with Helena Bonham-Carter; and Agnieszka Holland's Washington Square (1997) with Jennifer Jason Leigh. James's fiction has also inspired film adaptations further afield: in Spain, Portugal, and Germany, but above all in France, where, notably, François Truffaut made one of his most deeply felt films, La chambre verte ('The green room', 1978), based on two James stories.
Such translations of James into forms where he does not actually have to be read kept his name and image in the early twenty-first-century eye, though his work, with its linguistic and epistemological difficulties, and its ironic attitude to mass culture, seems unlikely ever to attain huge popularity. As long as there are reflective readers James will always have his following, and will find different audiences through the rich diversity of themes and modes in his work: of social observation and irony; of cultural history, tracing the turn from the Victorian to the modern world; but also of the 'deeper psychology', as T. S. Eliot called it in 'The Hawthorne aspect' (1918, in The Question of Henry James, ed. F. W. Dupee, New York, 1945, 112–19). Through his dedication to fictional experiment, usually directed to presenting his characters' point of view and making their experience more vivid and intimate for the reader, he is a writers' writer. Different Jamesians prefer the early or the late work, and see him as an apologist for the status quo or as a 'hater of tyranny' (in Pound's phrase in Henry James, 1918, in Critics on Henry James, ed. J. Don Vann, 1974, 38–40). The ambiguity of much of his work—in combination with its narrative power, wit, and stylistic beauty—makes it unlikely that debate between different views will subside during the present century.
- M. Anesko, Letters, fictions, lives: Henry James and W. D. Howells (1997)
- L. Edel and D. H. Laurence, A bibliography of Henry James: third edition, revised with the assistance of James Rambeau (1982)
- The complete notebooks of Henry James: the authoritative and definitive edition, ed. L. Edel and L. H. Powers (1987)
- L. Edel, Henry James: a life (1985)
- Henry James: letters, ed. L. Edel, 4 vols. (1974–84)
- A. Habegger, The father: a life of Henry James, sr. (1994)
- P. Horne, Henry James: a life in letters (1999)
- H. Montgomery Hyde, Henry James at home (1969)
- H. James, Autobiography: a small boy and others, notes of a son and brother, the middle years, ed. F. W. Dupee (1956)
- H. James, The American scene (1907)
- R. W. B. Lewis, The Jameses: a family narrative (1991)
- The letters of Henry James, ed. P. Lubbock, 2 vols. (1920)
- S. Nowell-Smith, ed., The legend of the master (1947)
- Henry James and Edith Wharton: letters, 1900–1915, ed. L. H. Powers (1990)
- The correspondence of William James, ed. I. K. Scrupskelis and E. M. Berkeley, 3 vols. (1992–4)
- T. Tanner, ed., Henry James: modern judgements (1968)
- F. Kaplan, Henry James: the imagination of genius: a biography (1992)
- S. M. Novick, Henry James: the young master (1996)
- J. R. Bradley, ed., Henry James on stage and screen (2000) [essays by M. Halliwell, P. Swaab, and N. Berry]
- Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
- Boston PL
- Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, John Hay Library
- Col. U., Rare Book and Manuscript Library, letters, see, NUC MS 70-124
- Col. U.
- Colby College, Waterville, Maine, Miller Library
- Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, Olin Library
- Dorset County Museum, Dorchester, Dorset Natural History and Archeological Society
- Duke U., Perkins L., letters and papers
- FM Cam.
- Harvard TC
- Harvard U., Houghton L., corresp., literary MSS, and papers
- Harvard U., Houghton L., family papers
- King's Cam.
- Mass. Hist. Soc.
- Middlebury College, Vermont, Abernethy Library
- Morgan L.
- Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pattee Library
- Ransom HRC, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
- Reform Club, London, papers
- Rutherford B. Hayes Library, Fremont, Ohio
- Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts
- Tate collection
- U. Cal., Berkeley, Bancroft Library
- U. Glas., Hillhead Library
- U. Reading L.
- University of Chicago, Joseph Regenstein Library
- University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Doheny Library
- BL, corresp. with Lord Gladstone, Add. MS 46018
- BL, corresp. with Macmillans, Add. MS 54931
- Bodl. Oxf., letters to Christopher Benson
- Bodl. Oxf., letters to H. G. Wells
- Ches. & Chester ALSS, letters to Rhoda Broughton
- Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, Baker/Berry Library, letters to Curtis family
- Duke U., Perkins L., letters to Sir Edmund Gosse
- Harvard U., Houghton L., letters to Theodora Bosanquet; literary MSS
- Harvard U., Houghton L., letters to Frances Hodgson Burnett and Mary Cadwalader Jones
- Harvard U., Houghton L., letters to Margaret Porter
- Hove Central Library, Sussex, letters to Lord and Lady Wolseley
- Hunt. L., letters to Edward Prioleau and Margaret Warren
- ICL, letters to Thomas Huxley and to Mrs Huxley
- NL Scot., corresp. with Sir Graham Balfour and Lord Rosebery
- NYPL, Berg collection
- Princeton University Library, New Jersey, Firestone Library, Robert H. Taylor collection
- Trinity Cam., letters to Mr and Mrs F. W. H. Myers
- U. Leeds, Brotherton L., letters mostly to Sir Edmund Gosse
- University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Alderman Library, C. Waller Barrett collection
- Warks. CRO, letters to Alice Dugdale
- Elliott & Fry, photograph, 1890–99, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Alderman Library
- W. Rothenstein, drawing, 1897, repro. in Nowell-Smith, The legend of the master
- W. Rothenstein, lithograph, 1898, NPG
- A. Boughton, photographs, 1905, Harvard U., Houghton L.
- K. E. McClellan, photographs, 1905, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts; copies, Harvard U., Houghton L.
- A. Boughton, photograph, 1906, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, National Portrait Gallery
- A. L. Coburn, photographs, 1906, Harvard U., Houghton L.
- A. L. Coburn, photogravure, 1906, NPG; repro. in T. Cooper, Men of mark: a gallery of contemporary portraits, 7 vols. (1876–83)
- J-E. Blanche, oils, 1908, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, National Portrait Gallery
- W. James II, oils, 1908, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts
- J. S. Sargent, charcoal drawing, 1912, Royal Collection
- J. S. Sargent, oils, 1913, NPG [see illus.]
- F. D. Wood, marble bust, 1913, Tate collection
- M. Beerbohm, caricature, drawings, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
- M. Beerbohm, caricatures, drawings, AM Oxf.
- M. Beerbohm, caricatures, drawings, University of Texas, Austin
- F. H. D'Avois, photographs, NPG
- J. La Farge, oils, Century Association, New York
- R. Lehmann, drawing, BM
- double portrait, photograph (with William James), NPG
- photographs, Harvard U., Houghton L., James family papers
Wealth at Death
£8961 5s. 2d.: probate, 9 May 1916, CGPLA Eng. & Wales