Henry James (Magill's Literary Annual 1993)
Fred Kaplan’s biography of the expatriated American novelist bills itself as “the first to be conceived in light of late-twentieth century attitudes about feminism and homosexuality.” A more condensed work than Leon Edel’s magisterial five-volume The Life of Henry James (1953-1972), Kaplan’s work is also more sharply focused on the two levels of James’s life: the emotionally charged atmosphere of the James household, in which a controlling father maintained order even during intense outbreaks of sibling rivalry; and the more rarefied world of James’s artistic and literary acquaintances. Such a context is perfect for a strict Freudian interpretation of the life of Henry James, and Kaplan delivers a readable and often entertaining account of a writer whose interests and fame spread across continents, cultures, and centuries.
Henry James was a descendant of a noteworthy if somewhat unstable New York family. James’s grandfather, William James of Albany, New York, was an Irish immigrant who amassed one of the largest fortunes in the young republic. James’s father, Henry James, Sr., was (for the most part) disinherited by his father after a scandalous career at Union College in Schenectady, New York, which included gambling and heavy drinking. After William James’s death in 1832, Henry James, Sr., successfully challenged the will that penalized both himself and his mother, though the case was not decided until 1843, the year of...
(The entire section is 1991 words.)
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Henry James (Magill Book Reviews)
Henry James, a member of a prominent American family that included his father, Henry James, Sr., a well-known religious writer, and his brother, William James, the famous philosopher and psychologist, was an expatriated writer who maintained a voluminous correspondence with his family and American friends. Kaplan bases this biography on a close reading of approximately twelve thousand unpublished letters of the James household, revealing James’s personal and private opinions about family members, leading artistic figures of the era, and Victorian sexual mores.
Henry James was born in 1843 in New York. Following a childhood during which the family moved constantly between Europe and America, James began a career as a writer in the 1860’s, composing reviews for the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW and THE NATION. James soon permanently relocated to England, where he found the cultural climate much more conducive to literary work. Over the next four decades, before his death in 1916, James produced more than twenty novel-length works and many shorter tales, while also writing nonfiction and associating closely with artistic figures such as Browning, Turgenev, Flaubert, Zola, Stevenson, Sargent, Kipling, Howells, Wells, Conrad, Crane, and Wharton.
Kaplan skillfully combines James’s public statements concerning art with the often intensely personal private correspondence. He reads James’s life on two levels: the first is the lifelong influence of the...
(The entire section is 337 words.)