Henry James Although relatively close to us in time, James is considered a classical writer. We turn back to him not only as an innovator of psychological realism but also as one of the greatest American literary minds. He was an aesthete in the best sense of that term: a man whose fine mind saw art as the most interesting thing in the world. Life. Henry James was born in New York in 1843 into a well-off family of Irish and Scottish origin. His father was a well known theologian and his brother, William, became a famous philosopher.
Henry and his brother William were educated privately in the United States and Europe. Henry briefly studied painting and law but soon turned his attention to fiction and devoted his life to it with passionate intensity. In Europe he met the great novelists of the time, including Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola. The last forty years of his life were spent abroad, and in 1915 he became a British subject, largely because of America's delay in entering World War I. Critical Theories. It has been said that if James had never written a line of fiction he would still be known as one of its great theorists and critics.
Many of -his comments are scattered throughout letters, essays, and reviews, but the essence of his view is found in "The Art of Fiction," in his prefaces to the New York edition of his collected works, and in his notebook entries. Together they form what is surely the most distinguished body of theoretical and practical commentary on fiction in all of American literature. "The Art of Fiction" (published 1884). James's best -known essay, James's basic assumption is that fiction is a serious art form not a pastime nor a game in which the reader indulges his daydreams, as Stevenson thought-but an "imitation of life." James often seems to echo Aristotle's description of tragedy: Fiction is imitation (that is a translation into a different medium) of life or a part of life. It deals 'with the larger truths of human existence that comprise the pattern behind the facts. But the novelist is not a philosopher; the patterns of life emerge in his work because he has succeeded in catching the "color" of life itself-a color that varies as it is perceived and felt by different artists.
James anticipates such writers as Joyce and Lawrence in their arguments for the artist's complete freedom of choice in his subject matter. James's own tastes and temperament led him to deal largely with the moral and social problems of middle and upper-class society, but his theoretical position demands only two qualities of fiction: that it be made of experience intensely perceived (either from life or from imagination) and that it be interesting. Prefaces and Notebooks. These offer a wealth of technical information about the craft of fiction, with examples taken mostly from James's own work.
He has much to say about the necessity of establishing "the sense of place," about the virtues of "dramatic" presentation of character (although he failed as a dramatist, he was much taken with the dramatist's methods), and about ways to foreshorten time. But his most famous comments concern "point of view," what he calls the "center of consciousness" (see especially his prefaces to The American, The Princess Casamassima, and The Ambassadors and his notebook entries on The Ambassadors). He advocates the limited point of view, presenting the story through the filter of a single character or a succession of characters (as in The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl). The first-person point of view is feasible in shorter works, but in full-length works it makes for looseness. James argues for characters of great sensitivity as his centers of consciousness, since the more they perceive of life the more the reader perceives. These "intense perceivers" may become too sensitive, too alert to the nuances of a given situation, but this is a gamble James is willing to take.
Along with the increasing complexity of his style, his hypersensitive narrators, or protagonists, have alienated James from the common reader, as James himself realized. Classic " i cation of James's Work. As is the case with 'many great writers, James's work is often divided into periods-early, , middle and late-usually on the basis of increasing subtlety of style and greater attention to the mental and emotional workings of his characters. Such an arrangement is useful because it allows one to follow the treatments of two of James's major themes: first, art and, second, the clash between the old European world and the new American world (the so-called international theme). One may trace James's progress as an artist by dealing with the fiction that takes as its subject, beginning with Roderick Hudson (1876) and then turning to the most famous stories and novellas that deal with artists and various principles of art.
Or one may assume the larger task of following James's use of the international theme from The American (1877) and Daisy Miller (1879) through The Portrait of a Lady (1881) to the novels of what Matthiessen called "the major phase": The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). It is James's use of the international theme that makes up the bulk of his major work. The conflict of moral and cultural values between the Old and New Worlds was a milieu as endlessly interesting for James as the sea was for Melville-especially since it gave him an immense range of intense perceivers through whom this many-leveled conflict could be recorded. In general, the personal conflict in these works is between more or less ingenuous Americans and sophisticated Europeans.
In the early work, the contrast is almost between American good and European evil. But the later work shows a greater awareness of complexities. Milly Theale (The Wings of the Dove) is still the American sacrificial lamb, morally superior to her European counterparts, as are Daisy Miller, Christopher Newman (The American), and Isabel Archer (The Portrait of a Lady). But Lambert Strether of The Ambassadors arrives at an awareness of the culpability of American moral simplicity, and Maggie Verve r, the heroine of The Golden Bowl, achieves a moral triumph over her husband (a European prince) only at great cost both to herself and her father.
Unlike Milly Theale, she does not literally die, but like Strether and many of James's other major figures, she faces a life in which moral righteousness has displaced the possibility of human happiness. Renunciations occur so often in James's work that many readers have concluded that for him sexual love was a tragic rather than romantic aspect of human life. This classification of James's writing into such broad thematic categories, though necessary for an overall view, ignores some of his other works and even slights some of the work that is thus classified. The artist stories are not merely artist stories; the international works are not merely international conflicts. In both groups, in others such as the ghostly tales, and in still other stories not easily classified, one finds real people playing out real dramas of loneliness, suffering, and betrayal.
Nearly all the major works, however classified, strike the reader primarily as dramas of individual humans, not as thesis stories. Portrait of a Lady. The Portrait of a Lady is one of James's early works. It was serialized both in the United States and in England before being published in revised books from 1881.
Summary: Isabel Archer, an American girl on a visit to Europe, is suddenly made rich and independent by an unexpected inheritance from her English uncle. Isabel considers herself unworthy of such a large fortune, her duty will be to pass her money on to a person whose needs and value are greater than hers. She thinks she has found the right person in Gilbert Osmond, an expatriate American artist and art collector who lives in Italy. She believes that by marrying him she will help a beautiful mind whose potential has not been realised because of lack of means.
She is to be sadly disappointed. This novel, like many others by James, can represent the diversity between two cultures: the European and American. Infact in this novel he shows an American girl in action in Europe and she feels about the European culture. Almost all of the characters in James's novel can be considered an alter ego of the author.
James respected his native country but thought it could not compete with the cultural level Europe had obtained during it's long history. James is in some way the to have compared this two "worlds.".