Henry James was born in New York City on April 15, 1843, in a rich and respectable area of the town. He spent his childhood in the U.S.A. where he started to attend the Harvard Law School but he left it soon to devote himself to writing short stories for magazines. At the age of only 25 he was considered the best short stories writer in the United States.

He had travelled a lot between America and Europe during his life but he finally settled in England because of its culture and traditions. He wasn’t interested in the social changes of his time or in public affairs.


He wrote 20 full-length novels, about a dozen short novels, more than a hundred short stories, travel books, essays and two volumes of autobiography; but his literary work is usually devided in to three phases.

First phase (1874-86)

In this period Henry  his stories deal with the collision between the American people, wich are more idealistic and the European society wich was more tolerant but often ambiguous and corrupt.

Date back to this period all the so-colled “international stories”; the characteristic of those works is that they all give a moral victory to American innocence and idealism.

Second phase (1886-99)

In the middle phase the major part of the characters described by James are English and also the setting fits with the English world. During this period he devoted himself also to play-writening but, after a modest succes he return tothe novel; however the stage technique had influenced his production.

Third phase(1899-1916)

In the last period of his production the author ddevoted himself to the individual mind, trying to reach the trouth of events without commenting on them, but making the lectors partecipate in their development.

The narrator seems to be the character himself and the reader feels present and invited to add his personal opinion. In some cases the same event is  told by different people from different points of view.

He is considered the foundator of the modern psychological novel.


His principal features and themes are:

ØThe STUDY OF AMERICANS IN EUROPE ( the so called INTERNATIONAL THEME): in his works the Americans appear innocent and unconventional while Europeans people are the opposit and so they take advantage of Americans naivety. In fact their innocence and their ignorance about the European conventions make them commit some errors.

ØThe theme of the ARTIST IN CONTRAST WITH THE SOCIETY and the consequent corruption of his ideals

ØThe PASSION FOR KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE, and the DESIRE OF SELF-FULFILMENT: all his heroes and heroines are generally rich, well-bred and intelligent, but their intellectual independence is often their ruin.

ØThe STUDY OF THE INNER DEVELOPMENT OF A CHARACTER: in his James gives more importance to the events wich take place inside the characters than to the external situations.

ØThe IMPORTANCE OF “POINT OF VIEW”: in his works we find a CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE which is the character of the narrator or the witness. All the story is told through his or her point of view and so the reader has to pay attention considering what this character tells because it could be the truth or not.

ØThe AUTHOR IS TO STAND APART while the READER IS INVOLVED: James doesn’t express any comment or explanation and so the reader himself feels deeply involved in the events. These theories were the basis of the modern psychological novel and of new narrative techniques.

ØUSE OF THE “DRAMATIC METHOD: it consists in the detailed description of the setting which comes before the dialogues. In this way we have often the impression of following the scene of a play. 


Henry James’s language and style are quite personal, very often, especially in his late works, elaborate and even tortuous; but they enable him to explore the nuances of complex characters to enter into their inner lives.

Percorso interdisciplinare di eleonora lenzoni milli anno scolastico 2004-2005 liceo scientifico "G.Oberdan" Trieste


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