Was Henry James a realist in the nineteenth century? Can you name some of his works?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Realism is writing that took place during the 19th Century, and was much different than the works produced by the Romantics. As its name suggests, the authors of realistic pieces were committed to portraying the world in a realistic fashion.

Harmon and Holman clearly delineate realism from other kinds of literature. The Romantic writers (in the early 1800s) looked for the ideal, the best possible outcome; naturalists looked for what was accurate or simply "superficial," but directed their sites on scientific law that would provide guidelines to explain the truth in writing; and, realists were interested in writing about the present day, living in the moment, and facing the outcome or effects of that living:

'Where romanticists transcend the immediate to find the ideal, and naturalists plumb the actual or superficial to find the scientific laws that control its actions, realists center their attention to a remarkable degree on the immediate, the here and now, the specific action, and the verifiable consequence'

Henry James is listed among a group of well-known and talented writers of realism. The period when this kind of literature was being produced is generally seen to run from the Civil War to the time that welcomed the 20th Century.

In American literature, the term "realism" encompasses the period of time from the Civil War to the turn of the century during which William Dean Howells, Rebecca Harding Davis, Henry James, Mark Twain, and others wrote fiction devoted to accurate representation and an exploration of American lives in various contexts.

In directing his talents to writing in the realism genre, James explored the very complex nature of the connections or associations between people.

Henry James’s novels detail the complexities of human relationships.

Some of Henry James' work include novels such as The AmericanThe EuropeansDaisy MillerThe Portrait of a LadyThe Wings of the DoveThe Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. He also wrote essays about other writers, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens and George Eliot, as well as "theater reviews and essays" on playwrights including William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial