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James, Henry

Henry James Jr. was born on 15th April 1843 in New York, son to Henry and Mary James. His brother, William James, had been born the year before. The family came from a very wealthy background, and moved among the fashionable circles of New York; Henry James’s early exposure to such groups would later form an influence on the topics of his literary work.

Henry James Sr.’s various publishing interests meant that the family were constantly moving between different homes and locations, and in 1851 they moved to Europe. The James boys had a relatively unstable education throughout the 1850s, as the family’s continuous relocation meant that they were shifted between a number of different schools and private tutors. Nonetheless, they gained the advantage of an early exposure to various cultures, and Henry Jr. soon became fluent in French.

In 1860 the family returned to America and settled in Rhode Island, where Henry James Jr. befriended the artist John La Farge. La Farge introduced James to a variety of French literature, which became an inspiration to his own work. After a brief and unhappy spell studying at Harvard Law School, Henry James decided to pursue a career in literature, following his true passion rather than the expectations of his family. From 1863 onwards, he regularly had fictional and non-fictional works published in journals such as The Nation and The Atlantic Monthly. In 1869, he relocated to London, where he established connections with a number of recognised authors and publishers. His own first novel was published in America in 1871.

Another key period of Henry James’ life came when he moved to Paris. This furthered his literary exposure, as he came into contact with leading European authors such as Zola and Turgenev. The Portrait of a Lady (1880) is today considered to be one of the author’s finest works, and was strongly inspired by the manners and principles that James observed in European culture and literature. One of the recurrent interests of his work was the relationship between cultural life in Europe and his homeland, the USA.

The final years of James’ existence saw him publish a number of memoirs about his various experiences. In 1905, he took the chance to revisit the USA for the first time in over 25 years, adding to his reflections on how cultural life there differed from in Europe. In 1915, he demonstrated his appreciation for what Britain had offered him by formally becoming a British citizen. In December of the same year, however, he suffered a terrible stroke, which he never truly recovered from. On 28th February 1916, Henry James died in London.
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Henry James Jr. was born on 15th April 1843 in Washington Square, Manhattan, the second son of Henry and Mary James.

Moved to New York City

The James family moved to a new home on West 14th Street.

Moved to Europe

When the family moved to Europe, it was a time of continual transition for Henry and his brother William, moving between different countries and schools. Because of their continual travel, a lot of the boys’ education was carried out by private tutors.

Returned to America

The family moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Henry befriended the painter John La Farge. It was his friendship with La Farge that inspired James to start reading French literature.


Henry James received a bad injury while fighting a fire. As a result, he was deemed unfit to serve in the American Civil War.

Enrolled at Harvard

Henry briefly attended Harvard Law School, only to come to the realisation that Law simply did not interest him. Instead, he began to pursue a career in literature.

First work published

James’s review of a stage performance of Fanchon the Cricket was published. Throughout the 1860s, James had a number of critical essays and short stories published in The Nation and The Atlantic Monthly.

Settled in London

During a visit to Europe, James met a number of celebrated authors, including Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold and William Morris. Inspired by their success, he settled in London and began to make contacts in several leading English publishing houses.

First novel published

His first novel, Watch and Ward, was published in serial form in The Atlantic Monthly. It was published as a book in 1878.

Moved to Paris

In Paris, Forster met more leading European writers, including Émile Zola and Ivan Turgenev. These encounters had a major influence on his later work.

The Portrait of a Lady published

Now one of James’ most famous novels, this was serialised in The Atlantic Monthly from 1880 to 1881.

The Turn of the Screw published

This novel was published on 13th October 1898, inspired by the trend for Gothic literature.

Visited America

For the first time in over 25 years, Henry James returned to America, allowing him to compare his impressions of Europe with those of his country of birth.

Became a British citizen

On 26th July 1915, Henry James completed the paperwork to formally become a British citizen. This represents just how important England was to him during his career as an author.


James died on 28th February 1916 in London, having suffered a stroke the year before.