Although his work did not gain much recognition during his lifetime, Henry James now has a standing amongst the most significant writers of the nineteenth century realism. The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller are his most widely read and best known works. Henry’s critique, short stories and novels are heavily influenced by European history and culture. His interest in Europe’s upper class and their formal traditions is evident in his writing. Henry’s engaging stories of Americans exploring the prim and proper lifestyle of the Europeans have gained him immense popularity. James has to his credit 22 novels, more than a hundred short stories, autobiographical works, several plays and critical essays.
Henry James was born into a wealthy and educated family in New York on April 15, 1843. His father Henry James Sr. was a well known clergyman and a rich intellectual having connections with some of the most influential and educated people of the time. Education was of utmost importance to Henry’s family. Henry’s siblings like Henry were also accomplished individuals in their own rights in life. His brother William James was a philosopher while his sister Alice James, a diarist.
Henry’s broadmindedness came from his extensive traveling between America and Europe in his younger years. The exposure he received at this time later reflected in his literary work. Also he was tutored by different teachers in Geneva, London, Paris, Bologna, and Bonn. At the age of 19 Henry attended Harvard Law School for a short period of time before quitting to pursue studying literature. Although Henry wished to be a playwright and spent a large portion of his literary career writing plays, his plays never gained the success his novels did and he eventually stopped writing for the theater and even transformed some of his plays into novels.
Critics and analysts have divided Henry’s work into three phases. The first phase constitutes of his early work which is direct and simplistic. In the second stage of his career, Henry James worked mainly on dramatics and short stories moving on to the third phase where his work comprises of long extensively written novels. Henry James is well known for his works such as Daisy Miller (1879), a story about a young American girl who finds it difficult to fit in with the sophistication of European traditions. The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is also another masterpiece focusing again on an American woman traveling in Europe. The Bostonians (1886) depicts the rising of feminist movement. What Maisie Knew (1897) is also about a young girl who makes a choice between her parents and an old governess. The Wings of Dove (1902) a beautifully written love story became a noted contribution of Henry James to American literature. However, he considered The Ambassadors (1903) to be his best work. Another noted novella by Henry James is The Turn of the Screw which is a ghost story. Some of these Henry James’s novels have also been adapted to screen. The Wings of the Dove, Washington Square, and The Portrait of a Lady are some popular movies based on his novels.
On February 28, 1916, Henry James departed this life due to pneumonia and a stroke he suffered a few months earlier.