Bio: Henry James was born in New York City on April 15, 1843, of Scottish and Irish ancestry. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a whimsical, utterly charming, maddeningly openminded parent--a Swedenborgian philosopher of considerable wealth who believed in a universal but wholly unformed society. He gave both Henry and his elder son, William, an infant baptism by taking them to Europe before they could even speak. In fact, Henry James later claimed that his first memory, dating from the age of two, was a glimpse of the column of the Place Vendome framed by the window of the carriage in which he was riding. His peripatetic childhood took him to experimental schools in Geneva, Paris, and London. Even back in the United States he was shuffled from New York City to Albany to Newport to Boston and finally to Cambridge, where in 1862 he briefly attended Harvard Law School. 'An obscure hurt,' probably to his back, exempted him from service in the Civil War, and James felt he had failed as a man when it counted most to be one and he vowed never to marry.
In search of a possible occupation, the young James turned to literature; within five years it had become his profession. His earliest story appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1865, when he was twenty-two. From the start of his career James supported himself as a writer, and over the next ten years he produced book reviews, drama and art criticism, newspaper columns, travel pieces and travel books, short stories, novelettes, a biography, and his first novel--Roderick Hudson (1876). Late in 1875, following two recent trips to Europe, James settled in Paris, where he met Turgenev, Flaubert, and Zola, and wrote The American (1877). In December 1876 he moved to London, where he produced The Europeans (1878). Soon afterward he achieved fame on both sides of the Atlantic with the publication of Daisy Miller (1879), the book that forever identified him with the 'international theme' of the effect of Americans and Europeans on each other.
Yet Henry James aspired to more than the success of Daisy Miller. Determined to scale new literary heights, James abandoned the intense social life of his earlier years and, with Balzac as his role model, devoted himself all out to the craft of fiction. Although The Portrait of a Lady (1881) was critically acclaimed and sold well, the other novels of James's 'Balzac' period--Washington Square (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), and The Tragic Muse (1890)--were not popular with the public. As a result, he decided to redirect his efforts and began writing for the stage. In 1895, the disastrous opening night of his play Guy Domville--when James came onstage only to be hissed and booed by the London audience--forever ended his career as a playwright.
Rededicating himself to fiction, he wrote The Spoils of
Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), and The Awkward Age (1899). Then, as he approached and passed the age of sixty James's three greatest novels appeared in rapid succession: The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). He spent most of his remaining years at Lamb House, his ivy-covered home in Rye, writing his memoirs and revising his novels for the twenty-four-volume New York Edition of his lifework. When World War I broke out, he was eager to serve his adopted country and threw himself into the civilian war effort.