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Henry James

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2. Henry James- his life and his work

Henry James was a gifted writer, who had talents in literature, psychology and philosophy. He wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 12 plays and a number of literary criticisms. He was, and still is, one of the greatest American novelists and critics. Being a master of the psychological novel, James was an innovator in technique and one of the most distinctive prose stylists in English.

He was born in New York City on April 15th, 1843 as a second son into a wealthy family. As his father was one of the best-known intellectuals in the mid-nineteenth century in America, he had the opportunity to move in affluent, fashionable circles and be in touch with different, well-known people, for example Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bronson Alcott.

In his youth James travelled back and forth between America and Europe, therefore he did not have a chance to get a proper education but what he did get was a chance to learn all about Europe and the lifestyle of the people living there.

He studied with tutors in Geneva, London, Paris, Bologna and Bonn. From an early age he read, criticized, and learned from the classics of English, American, French, Italian, German and Russian literature.

In 1860 the family returned to America and settled in Newport, where James was introduced to the works of the great French novelist Honorй de Balzac. He learned from him the mystery of the craft of fiction more than from anyone else. The Civil War interrupted his life and Henry was unable to enlist due to a slipped disc, an injury which caused him many troubles throughout his life.

In 1862 he went to Harvard to study law but he never finished it. He published his first short story ''A Tragedy of Errors''. His literary career began the same year as Hawthorne's came to an end. If Balzac was the major foreign influence on James, Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the principal American influences. James wrote many articles on Hawthorne, George Eliot and Turgenev, whom he admired as great writers.

As an adult he made several transatlantic visits and in 1875, when he published his first volume of short stories A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales, he made the decision to live as an expatriate in Europe. In the next few years he published his second international novel The American (1877), a novella The Europeans (1878), his first critical biography Hawthorne (1879) and his first best seller Daisy Miller (1879). Many of his novels and short stories were first published in the Atlantic. His most important piece of work is The Portrait of the Lady, written in 1881.

After the death of his parents in 1882-83 he wrote the first two novels of his middle period, The Bostonians and The Princess Casamassima in 1886, which did not do well due to the publisher's bankruptcy. He decided to write plays but he was not successful in the theatre. Therefore he started writing novels and short stories again. In novels What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age he represents his experiment in narrative technique, especially in the point of view.

From 1902 on he wrote three outstanding novels The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.

In 1912 he suffered a mild heart attack and moved to Rye, East Sussex where he died in 1916.

3. Literary influence

Gordon Pirie in his work about Henry James states that he was most influenced by Balzac, whose work ''with its immense accumulations of background detail, its obvious psychological and moral crudities, its rash generalisations'' (Pirie 1974: 19) may seem to have little in common with James's work, but he saw Balzac as the first truly professional novelist, who was seriously devoted to his art. There might have been some great English novelists, James was impressed by the works of George Eliot, but the English were aesthetically naпve. It was Balzac who had given the art of fiction its proper dignity.

In Paris James met Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Daudet. He learned from them a new view of the relation between art and morality. The French writers believed that ''the writer's responsibility was to the aesthetic requirements of his art rather than to the moral prejudices of his public. There was no question of teaching their reader a moral lesson'' (Pirie 1974: 20).

If the writer only referred to things instead of representing them, he was not considered a good writer. James concentrated increasingly on the particular, not the general, and that is one reason why his later works are harder to read.

In Paris he also met Turgenev, the Russian novelist, whose work James admired and was later also delighted with the writer himself. Turgenev's influence is shown in The Princess Casamassima where sympathy is ''combined with scrupulous detachment, an appreciation of the old world together with an understanding of those who wish to destroy it, and a perception of the complex variety of personal motives in those who join in a common cause'' (Pirie 1974: 21).

But James was not influenced only by European and English writers. W.D. Howells, who joined the staff of the Atlantic in 1866, had influence on James and turned him away from the realistic mode of his earlier work towards a more romantic strain. James looked upon Hawthorne, who was a romantic writer. His influence can be seen in the stories James wrote from the late 1860s on. Buitenhuis in his work The Grasping Imagination (1970) states that James:

felt the strain of representing a diversity of social types like those of the

European writers and the difficulty in establishing a sense of community,

which he so much admired in George Eliot's work. The romance tradition,

with its possibilities of emphasis on individual psychology and its relative

freedom from the kind of specific social detail that the realistic mode

requires, obviously offered an attractive alternative.

(Buitenhuis 1970: 38)

James's ''The Story of a Masterpiece'' (1868) is his first tale

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