Craig White's
Literature Courses


Henry James


Henry James (1843-1916)—prolific author of fiction, travel writing, literary and cultural criticism, and letters—is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers from the United States, but readers and critics divide over two issues raised by his life and his style:

1. Is James really “American” at all? Or simply a remarkable cosmopolitan who happened to be born in the United States but lived most of his life traveling or writing in Europe, becoming a British citizen the year before his death in 1916?

2. Is James a great experimental stylist who conscientiously imagines his characters’ interior lives, or does he only make a detailed fuss over small incidents in private lives?

Joseph Conrad, "Henry James--An Appreciation"

Biographical chronology:

  • Grandson of a wealthy Protestant Irish-American family; James's grandfather founded the family fortune by helping develop the Erie Canal.

  • James’s father, Henry James Senior, was an independently wealthy journalist associated with Transcendentalism and Swedenborgianism who relocated his family frequently in Europe and the Northeastern USA; friends with Hawthorne, Emerson, Thackeray, and other Anglo-American writers.

  • James’s elder brother, William James (1842-1910), was a leading American philosopher associated with Pragmatism and a founder of modern psychology. (Emerson was his godfather.)

  • James’s younger sister Alice James (1848-1892), a troubled invalid, wrote a fascinating diary, published posthumously: The Diary of Alice James, ed. Leon Edel (1964).

  • From the 1860s James wrote fiction, travel, memoir, literary criticism, and correspondence in great volume.

  • Fictional masterpieces include Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1994).

  • James’s fictional subject matter often involves Americans in Europe (occasionally vice versa) and the differences in minds and manners that develop on the two continents, as well as their interaction—the “International Theme,” which is now relevant to the emerging critical field of Trans-Atlantic literature.

  • James’s early style is associated with the Realism movement in American Literature after the Civil War. James was close friends with other leading American Realist writers including Edith Wharton and William Dean Howells.

    • James’s Realism shows particularly in observing social or class limits to human desires.

    • James’s realism may be classified as Psychological Realism b/c of attention to internal decision making, especially through third-person limited perspective.

  • James’s later writings become less Realist and more experimental in a style sometimes associated with Impressionism, stream-of-conscious narration, and Modernism.

  • From the 1870s James lived in Europe but continued to publish and maintain literary friendships in the USA.

  • Angry at the United States for not joining England in fighting the Germans in World War 1, James became an English citizen in 1915, the year before his death.

  • James’s fiction sold moderately well during his lifetime so that he was able to support himself by working tirelessly as a man of letters. (The James family fortune diminished rapidly across his parents' lifetime.) James's fiction has always enjoyed critical prestige and continues to attract intense attention and voluminous commentary.


from Dr. White's curriculum vitae:

“James, Henry.” The Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003. v. 2. 635-637.

“Cherry-Garrard, Apsley (1886-1956)” The Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003.  v. 1. 237-239.Review of The Eternal Footman, by James Morrow. Philo. Fall 2000.

"Women Writers," "Elizabeth Bishop," "Charlotte Perkins Gilman," "Alice James," "Sarah Orne Jewett," "Susan Sontag." The Handbook of American Women's History. 2nd. ed.  Ed. Angela Howard and Frances Kavenik.  New York: Garland Reference, 2000.

 “A Utopia of `Spheres and Sympathies’: Science and Society in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance and at Brook Farm.”  Utopian Studies 9.2 (1998): 78-102.

"Henry James, 1843-1916."  Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 189: American Travel Writers, 1850-1915.  Eds. Donald Ross and James J. Schramer.  Detroit, MI: Gale Research; Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1998.

Review of James Baldwin: A Biography, by David Leeming.  The Henry James Review.  16.2 (Spring 1995): 244-46.

Review of Henry James: Collected Travel Writings, ed. Richard Howard.  The Henry James Review.  15.1 (Winter 1994): 91-95.

"The Crisis," "Federal Writers Project," "Fire," "The Messenger," "Opportunity," and "Survey Graphic."  The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.  Ed. William Andrews et al.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

"A House of Interest: A Keyword in The Portrait of a Lady." Modern Language Quarterly.  52.2 (June 1991): 191-207.