In Memoriam: Henry James

James lived hereHenry James died 100 years ago today. Arguably the greatest American novelist, and one of the finest writers of his time, James died in England, after having adopted British citizenship. Long an expatriate, James hadn’t returned to his native United States in many years, but in the later years of his life, he returned to his memories, writing a series of autobiographical works, such as A Small Boy and Others, Notes of a Son and Brother, and The Middle Years (unfinished). The Library of America has recently published these essential works in a volume entitled Henry James: Autobiographies. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

I made a pilgrimage to James’ final residence, Lamb House, in Rye, a couple of years ago. It’s not much of a memorial, even less of a museum, but James’ memory lives on there. Ducked away on a corner of a narrow street, this unassuming house hides an attractive garden, which Henry enjoyed a great deal.

Lamb house

After traveling a great deal – especially during his youth; he was never stable for more than a few years at a time – and living in a succession of major cities, Henry settled in the sleepy town of Rye to live out his final years, and to write his greatest novels.

If you’ve never read Henry James, you should certainly delve into his fiction. There is a great deal of it, and it’s hard to know where to start. This bibliography lists a number of different volumes of his works, and perhaps those new to James should begin with his “tales,” or stories (some short, some novella-length). This inexpensive Library of America paperback (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) or this Penguin Classics collection (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) are both good collections for those new to James’ works.

4 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Henry James

  1. My favourite James novel is The Spoils of Poynton, but for those who want some extraordinary, compelling reading, try his letters, which are engaging, unaffected, direct, and very interesting: they start as a young man, through his youthful travels in Europe – his observations of Rome and Florence makes one ashamed for being so oblivious – and his voice is a modern, unpretentious one. Amongst the best things, and most surprising books, I have read in the past ten years.

    • Agreed. I have the five volumes of his letters that Leon Edel edited, and they’re wonderful. There is a new series of letters currently being published, but at exorbitant prices per volume, and some 140 volumes planned, I’ll give it a pass. I hope live someday near a library that has them.

      Related: I’m a big fan of journals, and reading both Emerson’s and Thoreau’s journals is fascinating.

  2. My favourite James novel is The Spoils of Poynton, but for those who want some extraordinary, compelling reading, try his letters, which are engaging, unaffected, direct, and very interesting: they start as a young man, through his youthful travels in Europe – his observations of Rome and Florence makes one ashamed for being so oblivious – and his voice is a modern, unpretentious one. Amongst the best things, and most surprising books, I have read in the past ten years.

    • Agreed. I have the five volumes of his letters that Leon Edel edited, and they’re wonderful. There is a new series of letters currently being published, but at exorbitant prices per volume, and some 140 volumes planned, I’ll give it a pass. I hope live someday near a library that has them.

      Related: I’m a big fan of journals, and reading both Emerson’s and Thoreau’s journals is fascinating.

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