Henry James was born on this day, in 1843, in NYC, to an imminent, intellectual American family, & grew up & went to school in Europe & New England.
James's writing career was long & prolific. In 5 decades he wrote 30+ novels & hundreds of short stories, articles & essays. His role was significant in the development of the novel, innovative in the use of the interior monologue as narrative.
His work was extremely popular. James continued, in old age, to produce world class work: The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) & The Golden Bowl (1904) are considered his masterpieces. They have all been made in to very good films.
James's sexuality remained a subject of debate for decades because of his famous friendships with women; because many critics were unable to read his homosexuality into his work; & because in literary circles, while he was acknowledged to be homosexual in his interests, the common opinion was that he was basically asexual.
From his journals & letters it is clear that James enjoyed close relationships of a romantic, even erotic, nature with several young men of his acquaintance. He may have remained in the closet due to that pesky Oscar Wilde, whose flamboyancy he abhorred, & whose scandalous trial drove most of gay society back to hiding their loves & lives.
James on Wilde: “hideously, atrociously dramatic & really interesting. It is the squalid gratuitousness of it all, of the mere exposure that blurs the spectacle. But the fall, to that sordid prison-cell & this gulf of obscenity over which the ghoulish public hangs & gloats, it is beyond any utterance of irony or any pang of compassion! He was never in the smallest degree interesting to me, but this hideous human history has made him so in a manner.”
In 1876, James met & fell in love with Paul Joukowsky, a young Russian painter & intellectual. Although time with Joukowsky was short-lived, but the friendships he enjoyed with other men would endure for many years. His attachment to Henrik Andersen, a young sculptor, generated an intensely erotic correspondence. James treasured his relationship with Andersen, & this relationship was to provide him with a source of joy throughout his later life.
Poor James, caught in conflicting cultural considerations: an American living in Europe, a gay man living in a heterosexual world, but as closeted gay man he was able to transform his personal difficulties into novels that give us the essence of an important time of change in society & literature in a most challenging way.