In This Article Henry James

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographies and Autobiographies
  • Editions
  • Letters
  • Early Criticism
  • Short Fiction
  • Aesthetics and Commodity Culture
  • Popular Culture
  • Publishing and Publicity
  • National and International Contexts
  • The “Henry James Novel” and Adaptations

Victorian Literature Henry James
by
Deborah Wynne
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0036

Introduction

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.

General Overviews

There are many books devoted to the life and work of Henry James. Indeed, he remains an intriguing figure for critics, although his voluminous output means that few single books deal with the full range of his works. However, the following texts taken together cover all aspects of his oeuvre and present good introductions to the various stages of James’s long career as a writer. Recent theoretical approaches are evident in Freedman 1998, Rawlings 2007, and Zacharias 2008, while Fogel 1993 offers students new to James detailed short chapters on a wide range of texts and themes. Haralson and Johnson 2009 is a useful reference book with information about all aspects of Henry James’s life and work, along with synopses of his novels and major stories. The lists for further reading are particularly helpful. Gale 1989 remains useful and, while not a source of critical commentary, offers an easy-to-navigate text covering all aspects of the life and work. The Henry James Review, established in 1979, publishes essays and reviews relating to all areas of Henry James studies. In recent years a number of useful websites devoted to the life and work of Henry James have emerged. The Center for Henry James Studies is based at Creighton University, and its website offers scholars a wealth of primary materials relating to James. The Henry James E-Journal offers short, pithy articles on specific topics relevant to James studies.

  • Center for Henry James Studies.

    E-mail Citation »

    A useful website offering access to letters, family papers, bibliographies, and other links relevant to James’s life and work.

  • Fogel, Daniel Mark, ed. A Companion to Henry James Studies. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book offers an extensive range of essays on the fiction, nonfiction, and life, as well as theoretical approaches to James. The appendices give a chronology of the published work in book form and include a helpful guide to critical work on James.

  • Freedman, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Henry James. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    While this book contains useful essays drawing on a range of theoretical approaches, there are, however, some omissions (for example, little attention is paid to the short stories).

  • Gale, Robert L. A Henry James Encyclopedia. New York: Greenwood, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    This offers extensive coverage of all aspects of James’s life and work, with useful appendices (listing James’s friends, published essays, personality traits, etc.) designed to navigate readers through the encyclopedia.

  • Haralson, Eric, and Kendall Johnson, eds. Critical Companion to Henry James: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Clearmark, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a clearly presented, well-illustrated guide to all aspects of James’s life and work. With its concise summaries of James’s fiction and other writing, the book is designed to inform students new to James of the range of themes, characters, and styles associated with each stage of his career.

  • Henry James E-Journal. 2000–.

    E-mail Citation »

    An interesting range of short essays and reviews is available from this resource.

  • Henry James Review. 1979–.

    E-mail Citation »

    Established in 1979 in conjunction with the Henry James Society, the journal presents important new work on James. The first editor, Daniel Mark Fogel, stated in the inaugural issue that the journal was designed to stimulate debate and research into all aspects of James’s life and work. It is often the first port of call for James scholars.

  • Rawlings, Peter, ed. Palgrave Advances in Henry James Studies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book presents useful, sophisticated essays on critical theory (including queer theory, new historical criticism, and feminist theory), Jamesian style, film adaptations, and a range of themes in James’s fiction, the autobiographies, and letters.

  • Zacharias, Greg W., ed. A Companion to Henry James. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an up-to-date and accessible companion covering many of the new theoretical approaches to Henry James.

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