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Henry James

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English Literature

Henry James (1843-1916) was an American-British author. He was a profoundly transatlantic figure - born in New York City; he died in London a year after becoming a British citizen. His work often dealt with the complex relationship between old Europe and new America, portraying the social interactions between citizens of both worlds. He is generally considered a link between literary realism and modernism - a transitional author.

Realism is a style in art or literature that shows things and people as they are in real life.¹ It was established in the 19th century in Europe. Common features in realism works include realistic plots and in-depth descriptions of settings and characters. Works of realism are character-driven and focus on their day to day lives.

Modernism is a cultural movement in literature and art that started in Europe in the 20th century. It developed as a break away from the established art forms. Works of modernism are characterised by experimentation and symbolism.

Henry James biography

Let's get to know Henry James a little better.

Early Life

Henry James was born in New York City on 15 April 1843. His parents were well-off, privileged, and educated. His mother came from a rich New York family, and his father was a philosopher, lecturer, and academic who had inherited money from his father, a banker. His father provided a varied cultural education for the young Henry.

As a shy, bookish youth, he travelled widely with his family throughout his childhood, spending time in Geneva, Paris, and London. They spent the most time in France, where James learned French. He had a rich, multicultural childhood and was exposed to many European influences.

Interestingly, he spoke English with a stutter, but he had no stutter when he spoke in French.

Adulthood

Henry James' adult life can be split in two parts, his life before fame and his life after fame.

Life before fame

At 19, Henry James enrolled at Harvard Law School but mainly spent his time reading literature, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Balzac. His first story appeared anonymously two years later in the New York Continental Monthly.

He befriended the American novelist William Dean Howells, and together they helped establish and define the movement of American Realism.

In 1869-70, he spent 14 months travelling around Europe, meeting influential literary figures of the day, including John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and William Morris. He tried to establish himself as a freelance writer in Paris and Rome, returning to America when these efforts failed.

He was a studious and patient writer and spent ten years writing short stories and journalistic pieces before attempting a full-length novel.

Life after fame

After 1875, he spent almost all of his time in Europe, finding it was more suited to his work and temperament than America, to which he only returned a couple of times during the rest of his life.

His first notable novel was Roderick Hudson, published in 1975. It was the beginning of a long and prolific career. The Portrait Of A Lady (1881) is widely regarded as his first masterpiece.

After a period during which French Realist writers heavily influenced him, James attempted to write for the theatre. His dramatic work was poorly received, which led to him completely changing his approach to develop his prose style.

After his attempt in theatre, his work became more symbolic and abstract, much less definably realist in style, and pointing the way towards the early 20th century modernist novel.

Henry James died on 28th February 1916 in London.

Henry James never married, leading some critics to hypothesise that he was homosexual. He was a distant, private figure that tended not to become involved with people, preferring to observe from a distance.

Notable works and quotes from Henry James

Let's discuss some of his famous works and memorable quotes.

Books

We'll look at two novels and briefly mention Henry James' short stories.

The Portrait Of A Lady (1881)

You must save what you can of your life; you mustn't lose it all simply because you've lost a part.Chapter 55

Henry James’ first notably successful novel, The Portrait Of A Lady, is one of his most popular and critically acclaimed works. It was originally published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly and Macmillan’s Magazine in 1880-81, before being published as a book in 1881. Set in England and Italy, it deals with the life of a passionate American woman named Isabel Archer, who inherits a sizable fortune and falls victim to the schemes of two Americans who intend to steal the money from her. Like many of James’ books, it addresses the tensions between Europe and America's old and new worlds.

The Turn Of The Screw (1898)

All roads lead to Rome, and there were times when it might have struck us that almost every branch of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden ground. Chapter 13

The novella The Turn Of The Screw is a ghost story with gothic horror elements.

Gothic fiction is a literary genre that started at the end of the 18th century in Europe. Works of gothic fiction usually feature an ominous setting, mysterious characters and events, and a scary atmosphere.

It tells the tale of a young woman working in her first job as a governess on a remote estate. The estate is being haunted by ghostly apparitions that seem to have dark intentions for the two children that are her responsibility. As the governess attempts to protect them from these sinister, ghoulish figures, we are left unsure whether the ghosts are real or whether she has gone insane. It is a masterpiece and probably the book for which Henry James is best known.

The Turn of the Screw has been adapted many times, including the critically acclaimed 1961 film The Innocents.

Short stories

During his lifetime, Henry James wrote many short stories. Let's take a look at some of them:

  • 'The Liar' (1888)
  • 'Brooksmith' (1891)
  • 'The Real Thing' (1892)
  • 'The Figure in the Carpet' (1896)
  • 'Mrs Medwin' (1901)

Henry James: common themes

Some of the recurring themes in Henry's works were: the old world vs the new world, freedom, and secrets.

Old world vs new world

Henry James’ main theme is the contrast between the old, traditional, corrupt, wise world of Europe and America's exuberant, industrious, youthful, new-moneyed world. He was interested in how the past influences the present in these settings. His works frequently feature expatriate American characters in European countries - a natural way to explore this theme.

In The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer is an American woman who travels to Europe.

Freedom

In his works, Henry James explores the freedom or lack thereof of the individual. This freedom is related to independence. In The Portrait of a Lady, the protagonist, Isabel Archer, values her independence as a woman in a man's world. She turns down a marriage proposal from Lord Warburton because she doesn't want to give up her freedom to live her life on her own terms. Lord Warburton himself sees things differently - he assumes that by offering her wealth and stability, he's allowing her to secure freedom. However, Isabel views freedom not as security but as a constant exploration.

Secrets

Most of the characters in Henry James' works are secretive. The stories revolve around the things that they hide. This theme is significant in The Turn of the Screw. The governess's secrets destroy her relationship with the children she looks after. If the governess had shared her secrets, this could have led to a different outcome of the story. Henry James offers a look at the psychology of hiding secrets - he explores our need to conceal what we know.

Henry James: literary movement

Realism was the dominant literary movement of the 1800s, which attempted to portray the real world. Modernism was the dominant movement of the early twentieth century. It was partly a response to technological developments and the horrors of the First World War. Modernism expressed a sense of emptiness and a loss of faith in old ideas and truths. Modernist literature tended towards experimental forms and techniques and stylistic innovations.

Henry James’ earlier works were much more grounded in realism; they attempted to paint every intricate detail of a situation. His later work left out details to create a psychologically complex, subjective style influenced by theatrical storytelling techniques. In creating this new style, he paved the way for the modernist 20th-century novel.

Henry James - Key takeaways

  • Henry James was an influential novelist that bridged the gap between the literary realism of the 19th century and the literary modernism of the early 20th century.
  • Notable works by Henry James include The Turn Of The Screw (1898) and The Portrait Of A Lady (1881).
  • Henry James tended to write stories that contrasted the old world of Europe and the new world of America.
  • He spent almost all of his life in Europe, despite being born and raised in America.

¹ Realism, Oxford English Dictionary: oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/american_english/realism

Henry James

Henry James is known for his literary works, such as the novel The Portrait Of A Lady (1881) and the novella The Turn Of The Screw (1898).

Henry James is also known for being a transitional author - a link between literary realism and modernism.

Henry James' greatest novel is considered to be The Portrait Of A Lady (1881).

Henry James' earlier works are grounded in realism while his later works are more modernist.

Henry James was called 'the Master', mainly by American critics, for his mastery of technique and for his literary achievements.

Henry James didn't have a wife, he never married. This led some critics to hypothesise that he was homosexual.

Final Henry James Quiz

Question

Who wrote The Turn of the Screw?

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Answer

Henry James.

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Question

What form is The Turn of the Screw written in?

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Answer

It is a novella.

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Question

What is a novella?

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Answer

A fiction text that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.

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Question

What are the names of the two children at Bly?


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Answer

Miles and Flora.

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Question

Which of the following is not the name of a ghost at Bly?

  1. Miss Jessel.

  2. Mrs Grouse.

  3. Peter Quint.

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Answer

B.

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Question

When was The Turn of the Screw published?


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Answer

1898.

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What genre is The Turn of the Screw?


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Answer

It is a Gothic horror.

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Question

True or False: The Turn of the Screw follows different narratives and is structured as a ‘tale within a tale’.

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Answer

True.

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Question

True or False: Henry James was a British writer in the 19th century.


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Answer

False, he was American.

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Question

Which of the following is a main theme in The Turn of the Screw?

  1. Corruption

  2. Humour

  3. Family

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Answer

A, corruption.

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Which two characters are seen as violent in the novella?


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Answer

Peter Quint and Miles.

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True or False: The Turn of the Screw is still popular and has been adapted for the screen multiple times.


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Answer

True.

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What is the name of the manor house where most of the novella takes place?


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Answer

Bly.

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What job does our narrator do at Bly when she cares for Flora and Miles?


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Answer

The governess.

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What happens at the end of the novella?


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Answer

Miles dies after seeing Peter Quint.

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How many years before his death did Henry James become a British citizen?


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Answer

1

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Where was Henry James born?


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Answer

New York City

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True or false: Henry James died in London.

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Answer

True.

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Who is the main character in The Portrait Of A Lady?


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Answer

Isabel Archer

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What second language (other than English) did Henry James learn to speak as a child?

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Answer

French

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How many children does the governess have to take care of in The Turn Of The Screw?


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Answer

2

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Question

Which literary movement(s) were Henry James’ work part of?


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Answer

Realism and modernism

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Question

Where did Henry James publish his first short story?

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Answer

The New York Continental Monthly

 


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True or false: Henry James married twice.

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Answer

False.

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Question

The old world and the new world in Henry James' works refer to...

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Answer

Europe and America

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Where is Bly Manor located?


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Answer

Essex

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Question

True or false: the novella first appeared in serialised form before being published in collected form. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which of these is NOT a characteristic of gothic literature?

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Answer

A comedic villain

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Question

Which of these symbolises the ability to see the truth?

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Answer

Light

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Question

True or false: the governess sees the ghosts through the windows, so she brakes the windows in an attempt to destroy the ghosts.

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Answer

False.

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When the lights are off in Bly Manor, the darkness in the house gives way to...

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Answer

 the supernatural

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Question

True or false: The Turn of the Screw is presented to us as a manuscript written by the governess.

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Answer

True.

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Question

What is one possible interpretation of the supernatural in The Turn of the Screw?

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Answer

A manifestation of the repressive Victorian attitude to sexuality

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Question

What does Freudianism examine?

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Answer

Sexual development, particularly in the early years of childhood


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Question

True or false: by the end of the novella, we know that the ghosts are not real.

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Answer

False.

Show question

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