Postbellum America, 1866-1913: Literature
Henry James, 1843-1916By Anna Thompson, Steven Byrd, Pam McInnis, Rebecca Price
Students, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Henry James was highly talented and displayed wonderful craftsmanship of writing during his time. Growing up in Manhattan, James was exposed to tremendous knowledge from his father, Henry James Sr., one of the best known-intellectuals of his time. As the young James became older and more exposed to his father's vast knowledge, he too became very educated. During James's teen years and early twenties, he traveled extensively, mainly back and forth between America and Europe. In 1862 James briefly attended Harvard Law School for a year and shortly afterward published his first story, "A Tragedy of Errors." This was the beginning of James's creative work as a writer. It wasn't until 1871 that James published his first novel, Watch and Ward, the story of a bachelor who adopts a young girl and then plans to marry the child. Though the novel stirred up conflict, it did not stop James from continuing his work. James lived in Paris and England. Even though he was across the world, he still found time to contribute to the New York Tribune and also was able to write other short stories and novels. In 1875, James settled in Paris, where he wrote The American. In 1876, James moved to London, where he wrote his award-winning novel Daisy Miller. Over the next several decades, he wrote a number of other important novels, including Washington Square, The Turn of the Screw, The Wings of the Dove, and The Ambassadors. James died in February of 1916, but he left behind many great novels that are still being read and studied.
Many of the themes in James's work were centered around
the innocence of the New World, which was in constant conflict, and the
corruption and wisdom of the Old World. James had a consciousness
of persuading his readers into the novels psychologically, and yet he brought
awareness to the surface concerning many everyday social issues.
James's style has been studied over the years, and many critics believe
he shaped the modern novel. For example, Debora Sherman, professor
at Harvard University, states: "To look at the very considerable work of
Henry James, one can explore his influence upon the shaping of the modern
novel as an instrument of consciousness."
Kunitz, Stanley, and Haycraft, Howard, ed. American Authors, 1600-1900. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1938.
Published in 1938, American Authors, 1600-1900 is a massive volume covering the origins of American literature. Spanning three centuries and 1300 authors, this resource attempts to find a clear lineage in the American literary tradition, showing how the literature progresses. This volume is invaluable in the study of pioneering American authors and American literature itself.Trotsky, Susan M., ed. Contemporary Authors Vol. 132. Detroit: Gale Research Inc.,
Contemporary Authors has been a well-respected literary research tool since its first edition was published in 1962. The Contemporary Authors series is completely updated every five years, thereby staying abreast of current trends, theories, and thoughts and allowing modern critics and readers to look over classic authors with a new pair of eyes. This volume treats the reader to postmodern, feminist, Marxist, and Fredian perspectives on James.
- One of the most memorable aspects of James' style are his diction and his syntax. Do James' long sentences and complex word order help engage readers in the story or do they alienate them from the work?
- Look at other writers we have studied in this course. How does James's style compare with Melville's, Hawthorne's or even Stegner's? Is it a natural progression from the literature of the time, or is it James's own creation? Is it a wholly American style, or more European, as some critics have suggested?
- In the novel, The American, what drives Christopher Newman to travel around Europe?
- What is James saying about Americans' impression of Europe, regarding the fact that Newman travels to view the culture of Europe?
- Is Newman a "typical" American, with typical American views?
- Analyze the novel's conclusion.