The Later Historians
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Henry James, noted as an essayist, sketch writer and novelist, was born in New York city in 1843. His father, bearing the same name, was a scholarly Swedenborgian and wrote much in advocacy of his belief. The son, on account of delicate health, was educated at home. Both as boy and man he has spent much time in Europe. He entered early on a literary career, and after publishing some sketches, issued in 1875, "Roderick Hudson," in which he displayed the two motives that appear in most of his work—the contrast between Americans and Europeans, and the contrast between the artistic and the aver-age human character. These contrasts were brought out still more strongly in "The American" (1877), in which Christopher Newman is the hero, but the pathetic short story, "Daisy Miller" (1878), impressed them most effectually on the public. James has written with great care and deliberation other short stories and studies, and has had much effect on the style of other writers, though he has never become a really popular novelist. He treats of polite society and cares little for plot. His object is to reveal character, and this is done in dialogue and preliminaries tending to action rather than in action itself. He has written descriptive sketches of men and places, minor travels, and essays on social topics. With Sir Walter Besant he prepared "The Art of Fiction" (1885) and he has made translations from the French. One of his best short stories is "The Madonna of the Future" (1879) ; others are "The Lesson of the Master" (1892), and "What Maisie Knew" (1897). "The Portrait of a Lady" (1882) is deservedly the most popular of James's longer stories. "The Princess Casamissima" (1886) is a kind of sequel to "Roderick Hudson," introducing again one of his finest characters, Christina Light. It is more serious and somber than the earlier part. "The Tragic Muse" (189o) is a long complicated novel of English characters, who are made more attractive than his Americans. James has been a close student of Turgenieff and the modern French school, and has written excellent criticisms of those novelists. He is a realist, yet not in any offensive sense. He never descends to the vulgar or impure.