James Correspondence

Scope and Content

Letters from Henry James to Charles E Wheeler.

Administrative / Biographical History

James, Henry (1843-1916), writer, was born on 15 April 1843 at 21 Washington Place in New York City, the second of the five children of Henry James (1811-1882), speculative theologian and social thinker, and his wife, Mary, ne Walsh (1810-1882), daughter of James Walsh, a New York cotton merchant of Scottish descent, and his wife, Elizabeth Robertson Walsh.

In his youth James traveled back and forth between Europe and America. He studied with tutors in Geneva, London, Paris, Bologna and Bonn. At the age of 19 he briefly attended Harvard Law School, but preferred reading literature to studying law. James published his first short story, 'A Tragedy of Errors' two years later, and devoted himself to literature. In 1866-1869 and 1871-1872 he was a contributor to 'The Nation' and 'Atlantic Monthly'.

From an early age James had read the classics of English, American, French and German literature and Russian classics in translation. His first novel, 'Watch and Ward' (1871), was written while he was traveling through Venice and Paris. After living in Paris, where he was contributor to the 'New York Tribune', James moved to England, living first in London and then in Rye, Sussex. During his first years in Europe James wrote novels that portrayed Americans living abroad. In 1905 James visited America for the first time in twenty-five years, and wrote "Jolly Corner".

Among James' masterpieces are 'Daisy Miller' (1879); in which the eponymous protagonist, the young and innocent American Daisy Miller, finds her values in conflict with European sophistication; and 'The Portrait of a Lady' (1881), in which once again a young American woman becomes a victim of her provincialism during her travels in Europe. 'The Bostonians' (1886) is set in the era of the rising feminist movement. 'What Maisie Knew' (1897) depicts a preadolescent girl, who must choose between her parents and a motherly old governess. In 'The Wings of the Dove' (1902) an inheritance destroys the love of a young couple. James considered 'The Ambassadors' (1903) his most "perfect" work of art. James's most famous short story is 'The Turn of the Screw', a ghost story in which the question of childhood corruption obsesses a governess. Although James is best known for his novels, his essays are now attracting a more general audience.

Between 1906 and 1910 James revised many of his tales and novels for the New York edition of his complete works. His autobiography, 'A Small Boy And Others', appeared in 1913 and was continued in 'Notes Of A Son And Brother' (1914). The third volume, 'The Middle Years', appeared posthumously in 1917. The outbreak of World War I was a shock for James and in 1915 he became a British citizen as a declaration of loyalty to his adopted country and in protest against the US's refusal to enter the war. James suffered a stroke on December 2, 1915. He died three months later in London on February 28, 1916. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes are interred at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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