Henry James

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Live all you can — it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had?

Henry James, OM (15 April 1843 – 28 February 1916) was an American author. He is regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism, and is considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language. He was the son of Henry James Sr. and the brother of renowned philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James.

See also: The American Scene


Deep experience is never peaceful.
  • [of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones] [it is] like a vast episode in a sermon preached by a grandly humorous divine; and however we may be entertained by the way, we must not forget that our ultimate duty is to be instructed.
    • An early critical review, North American Review (1864)
  • In the long run an opinion often borrows credit from the forbearance of its patrons.
    • "Essays in Criticism by Matthew Arnold," North American Review (July 1865)
  • I haven't a creature to talk to...How in Boston, when the evening arrives, and I am tired of reading, and know it would be better to do something else, can I go to the theater? I have tried it, ad nauseam. Likewise calling. Upon whom?"
  • Everything about Florence seems to be coloured with a mild violet, like diluted wine.
  • The face of nature and civilization in this our country is to a certain point a very sufficient literary field. But it will yield its secrets only to a really grasping imagination... To write well and worthily of American things one need even more than elsewhere to be a master.
  • It's a complex fate, being an American, and one of the responsibilities it entails is fighting against a superstitious valuation of Europe.
    • Letter to Charles Eliot Norton (4 February 1872)
  • Deep experience is never peaceful.
    • Madame de Mauves, Galaxy Magazine (February/March 1874), ch. V, reprinted in A Passionate Pilgrim (1875) and later in The Madonna of the Future and Other Tales (1879) and the New York Edition of James' works, vol. 13 (1908)
  • My choice is the old world — my choice, my need, my life.
    • Notebook entry, Boston, (25 November 1881)
  • There are bad manners everywhere, but an aristocracy is bad manners organized.
  • I hold any writer sufficiently justified who is himself in love with his theme.
    • "Venice," The Century Magazine, vol. XXV (November 1882), reprinted in Portraits of Places (1883) and later in Italian Hours (1909), ch: I: Venice, pt. I
  • Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.
    • "Venice," The Century Magazine, vol. XXV (November 1882), reprinted in Portraits of Places (1883) and later in Italian Hours (1909), ch. I: Venice, pt. II
  • There are two kinds of taste in the appreciation of imaginative literature: the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.
    • "Anthony Trollope," Century Magazine (July 1883); reprinted in Partial Portraits (1888)
  • A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it.
  • If the artist is necessarily sensitive, does that sensitiveness form in its essence a state constantly liable to shade off into the morbid? Does this liability, moreover, increase in proportion as the effort is great and the ambition intense?
    • "The Journal of the Brothers de Goncourt," Fortnightly Review (October 1888)
  • To take what there is, and use it, without waiting forever in vain for the preconceived — to dig deep into the actual and get something out of that — this doubtless is the right way to live.
  • The superiority of one man's opinion over another's is never so great as when the opinion is about a woman.
    • The Tragic Muse (1890), ch. IX
  • The practice of "reviewing"… in general has nothing in common with the art of criticism.
    • Criticism (1893)
  • The critical sense is so far from frequent that it is absolutely rare, and the possession of the cluster of qualities that minister to it is one of the highest distinctions... In this light one sees the critic as the real helper of the artist, a torchbearing outrider, the interpreter, the brother... Just in proportion as he is sentient and restless, just in proportion as he reacts and reciprocates and penetrates, is the critic a valuable instrument.
    • Criticism
  • However incumbent it may be on most of us to do our duty, there is, in spite of a thousand narrow dogmatisms, nothing in the world that anyone is under the least obligation to like — not even (one braces one's self to risk the declaration) a particular kind of writing.
    • Flaubert (1893)
  • We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.
  • She had an unequalled gift, especially pen in hand, of squeezing big mistakes into small opportunities.
  • The only success worth one's powder was success in the line of one's idiosyncrasy. Consistency was in itself distinction, and what was talent but the art of being completely whatever it was that one happened to be?
    • "The Next Time," The Yellow Book, vol. VI (July 1895)
  • Vereker’s secret, my dear man — the general intention of his books: the string the pearls were strung on, the buried treasure, the figure in the carpet.
  • He is outside of everything, and an alien everywhere. He is an aesthetic solitary. His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the autumn evening just brushes the dusky window.
    • "Nathaniel Hawthorne" in Library of the World's Best Literature, vol. XII (1897), ed. Charles Dudley Warner
  • I'm glad you like adverbs — I adore them; they are the only qualifications I really much respect.
    • Letter to Miss M. Betham Edwards (5 January 1912)
  • We must know, as much as possible, in our beautiful art...what we are talking about — and the only way to know is to have lived and loved and cursed and floundered and enjoyed and suffered. I think I don't regret a single "excess" of my responsive youth — I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn't embrace.
    • Letter to Hugh Walpole (21 August 1913)
  • I still, in presence of life... have reactions — as many as possible... It's, I suppose, because I am that queer monster, the artist, an obstinate finality, an inexhaustible sensibility. Hence the reactions — appearances, memories, many things, go on playing upon it with consequences that I note and "enjoy" (grim word!) noting. It all takes doing — and I do. I believe I shall do yet again — it is still an act of life.
    • Letter to Henry Adams (21 March 1914)
  • The effect, if not the prime office, of criticism is to make our absorption and our enjoyment of the things that feed the mind as aware of itself as possible, since that awareness quickens the mental demand, which thus in turn wanders further and further for pasture. This action on the part of the mind practically amounts to a reaching out for the reasons of its interest, as only by its ascertaining them can the interest grow more various. This is the very education of our imaginative life.
    • The New Novel (1914)
  • It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.
    • Letter to H.G. Wells (10 July 1915)
  • The full, the monstrous demonstration that Tennyson was not Tennysonian.
  • If I were to live my life over again, I would be an American. I would steep myself in America, I would know no other land.
    • Said to Hamlin Garland in 1906 and quoted by Garland in Roadside Meetings (1930; reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-417-90788-6, ch. XXXVI: Henry James at Rye, p. 461
  • Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
  • So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!
    • After suffering a stroke (1915-12-02), the first of several which led to his death, as recounted by Edith Wharton in A Backward Glance (1934), ch. 14: "He is said to have told his old friend Lady Prothero, when she saw him after the first stroke, that in the very act of falling (he was dressing at the time) he heard in the room a voice which was distinctly, it seemed, not his own, saying: 'So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!'"
  • Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.
    • Overheard by his nephew, Billy James, in 1902; quoted in Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, vol V: The Master 1901-1916 (1972)
  • Cecilia had moreover a turn for sarcasm, and her smile, which was her pretty feature, was never so pretty as when her sprightly phrase had a scratch lurking in it.
    • Ch. I
  • True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one's self; but the point is not only to get out — you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.
  • The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for, and that all one's ideas are like the Irish people at home who live in the different corners of a room and take boarders.
    • Ch. V
  • We stand like a race with shrunken muscles, staring helplessly at the weights our forefathers easily lifted.
    • Ch. VI
  • It is nothing against the validity of a friendship that the parties to it have not a mutual resemblance. There must be a basis of agreement, but the structure reared upon it may contain a thousand disparities.
    • Ch. II
  • "I know, of course, nothing about vice, but I have known virtue when it was very tiresome."
    "Ah, then it was a poor affair. It was poor virtue. The best virtue is never tiresome."
    Miss Vivian looked at him a little, with her fine discriminating eye.
    "What a dreadful thing to have to think any virtue poor!"
    • Angela Vivian and Bernard Longueville in Ch. V
  • In every disadvantage that a woman suffers at the hands of a man, there is inevitably, in what concerns the man, an element of cowardice. When I say "inevitably," I mean that this is what the woman sees in it.
    • Ch. XIX

Hawthorne (1879)

  • It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.
  • One might enumerate the items of high civilization, as it exists in other countries, which are absent from the texture of American life, until it should become a wonder to know what was left.
    • Ch. II: Early Manhood
  • Whatever question there may be of his [Thoreau's] talent, there can be none, I think, of his genius. It was a slim and crooked one; but it was eminently personal. He was imperfect, unfinished, inartistic; he was worse than provincial — he was parochial; it is only at his best that he is readable.
    • Ch. IV: Brook Farm and Concord
  • He would agree that life is a little worth living — or worth living a little; but would remark that, unfortunately, to live little enough, we have to live a great deal.
    • Ch. V: The Three American Novels
  • It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to undervalue them.
    • Ch. VI: England and Italy
  • Young men of this class never do anything for themselves that they can get other people to do for them, and it is the infatuation, the devotion, the superstition of others that keeps them going. These others in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred are women.
    • Ch. XIV
  • She ordered a cup of tea, which proved excessively bad, and this gave her a sense that she was suffering in a romantic cause.
    • Ch. XV
  • Don't undervalue irony; it is often of great use.
    • Ch. XXVII
  • Mrs Touchett was certainly a person of many oddities, of which her behaviour on returning to her husband's house after many months was a noticeable specimen. She had her own way of doing all that she did, and this is the simplest description of a character which, although by no means without liberal motions, rarely succeeded in giving an impression of suavity.
    • Ch. III
  • Mr Touchett used to think that she reminded him of his wife when his wife was in her teens. It was because she was fresh and natural and quick to understand, to speak – so many characteristics of her niece – that he had fallen in love with Mrs Touchett.
    • Ch. VI
  • She had promised him she would consider his question [of marrying him] [...]. But this was not the case; she was wondering if she were not a cold, hard, priggish person, and, on her at last getting up and going rather quickly back to the house, felt, as she had said to her friend, really frightened at herself.
    • Ch. XII
  • There's no more usual basis of union than a mutual misunderstanding.
    • Ch. XV
  • "If I should cease to think of you at all for a prescribed time, I should find I could keep it up indefinitely. [...] You know that what you ask is impossible [...] I'm capable of nothing with regard to you," he went on, "but just of being infernally in love with you. If one's strong one loves only the more strongly."
    • Ch. XVI
  • Besides, I try to judge things for myself; to judge wrong, I think, is more honourable than not to judge at all.
    • Ch. XVI
  • She often wondered indeed if she ever had been, or ever could be, intimate with anyone. She had an ideal of friendship as well as of several other sentiments, which it failed to seem to her in this case – it had not seemed to her in other cases – that the actual completely expressed.
    • Ch. XIX
  • "I don't pretend to know what people are meant for," said Madame Merle. "I only know what I can do with them."
    • Ch. XXII
  • To live in such a place was, for Isabel, to hold to her ear all day a shell of the sea of the past. This vague eternal rumour kept her imagination awake.
    • Ch. XXIII
  • Don't mind anything anyone tells you about anyone else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.
    • Ch. XXIII
  • The working of this young lady's spirit was strange, and I can only give it to you as I see it, not hoping to make it seem altogether natural.
    • Ch. XXIX
  • She gave an envious thought to the happier lot of men, who are always free to plunge into the healing waters of action.
    • Ch. XXXVIII
  • She could never rid herself of the sense that unhappiness was a state of disease – of suffering as opposed to doing. To "do" – it hardly mattered what – would therefore be an escape, perhaps in some degree a remedy.
    • Ch. XLI
  • The real offence, as she ultimately perceived, was her having a mind of her own at all. Her mind was to be his — attached to his own like a small garden-plot to a deer-park.
    • Ch. XLII
  • You wanted to look at life for yourself — but you were not allowed; you were punished for your wish. You were ground in the very mill of the conventional!
    • Ch. LIV
  • Here she drew forth a small pocket-book, took from it a card and a pencil and, after meditating a moment, wrote a few words. It is our privilege to look over her shoulder, and if we exercise it we may read the brief query: [...].
    • XLIV
  • What he thought of her she knew, what he was capable of saying to her she had felt; yet they were married, for all that, and marriage meant that a woman should cleave to the man with whom, uttering tremendous vows, she had stood at the altar.
    • Ch. LI

Originally published in Longman's Magazine (1884-09-04) and reprinted in Partial Portraits (1888)

  • The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life.
    • Variant text: The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does compete with life.
  • The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting.
  • The advantage, the luxury, as well as the torment and responsibility of the novelist, is that there is no limit to what he may attempt as an executant — no limit to his possible experiments, efforts, discoveries, successes.
  • Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web, of the finest silken threads, suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.
  • The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life, in general, so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it — this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience, and they occur in country and in town, and in the most differing stages of education. If experience consists of impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience, just as (have we not seen it?) they are the very air we breathe. Therefore, if I should certainly say to a novice, "Write from experience, and experience only," I should feel that this was a rather tantalizing monition if I were not careful immediately to add, "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!"
  • What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?
  • We must grant the artist his subject, his idea, what the French call his donnée; our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it. Naturally I do not mean that we are bound to like it or find it interesting: in case we do not our course is perfectly simple — to let it alone. We may believe that of a certain idea even the most sincere novelist can make nothing at all, and the event may perfectly justify our belief; but the failure will have been a failure to execute, and it is in the execution that the fatal weakness is recorded. If we pretend to respect the artist at all we must allow him his freedom of choice, in the face, in particular cases, of innumerable presumptions that the choice will not fructify. Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions, and some of the most interesting experiments of which it is capable are hidden in the bosom of common things.
  • There are few things more exciting to me, in short, than a psychological reason.
  • The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be.
    • Introduction
  • ...I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite, such a place as would somehow, for diversion of the young idea, take all colour out of storybooks and fairy tales. Wasn't it just a storybook over which I had fallen a-doze and a-dream? No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilised, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!
    • Ch. I
  • I was there to protect and defend the little creatures in the world the most bereaved and the most loveable, the appeal of whose helplessness had suddenly become only too explicit, a deep, constant ache of one's own committed heart. We were cut off, really, together; we were united in our danger. They had nothing but me, and I - well, I had them.
    • Ch. II
  • It was as if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight of subjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly out of alleys that we perceived to be blind, closing with a little bang that made us look at each other — for, like all bangs, it was something louder than we had intended— the doors we had indiscreetly opened.
    • Ch. XIII
  • The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance — all strewn with crumpled playbills.
    • Ch. XIII
  • Here at present I felt afresh—for I had felt it again and again—how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will, the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth that what I had to deal with was, revoltingly, against nature. I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue. No attempt, nonetheless, could well require more tact than just this attempt to supply, one's self, all the nature.
    • Ch. XXII
  • He had picked up his hat, which he had brought in, and stood twirling it in a way that gave me, even as I was just nearly reaching port, a perverse horror of what I was doing. To do it in ANY way was an act of violence, for what did it consist of but the obtrusion of the idea of grossness and guilt on a small helpless creature who had been for me a revelation of the possibilities of beautiful intercourse? Wasn't it base to create for a being so exquisite a mere alien awkwardness? I suppose I now read into our situation a clearness it couldn't have had at the time, for I seem to see our poor eyes already lighted with some spark of a prevision of the anguish that was to come.
    • Ch. XXIII
  • It came to me in the very horror of the immediate presence that the act would be, seeing and facing what I saw and faced, to keep the boy himself unaware. The inspiration—I can call it by no other name—was that I felt how voluntarily, how transcendently, I might. It was like fighting with a demon for a human soul, and when I had fairly so appraised it I saw how the human soul—held out, in the tremor of my hands, at arm's length—had a perfect dew of sweat on a lovely childish forehead.
    • Ch. XXIV
  • I seemed to float not into clearness, but into a darker obscure, and within a minute there had come to me out of my very pity the appalling alarm of his being perhaps innocent. It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent, what then on earth was I?
    • Ch. XXIV
  • With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes, I held him—it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.
    • Ch. XXIV
  • I never really have believed in the existence of friendship in big societies—in great towns and great crowds. It is a plant that takes times and space and air; and London society is a huge "squash," as we elegantly call it—an elbowing, pushing, perspiring, chattering mob.
    • Said by Vanderbank in Book I, ch. II
  • Most English talk is a quadrille in a sentry-box.
    • Said by the Duchess in Book V, ch. XIX
  • People talk about the conscience, but it seems to me one must just bring it up to a certain point and leave it there. You can let your conscience alone if you're nice to the second housemaid.
    • Said by Mrs. Brookenham in Book VI, ch. III
  • Live all you can — it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had?[…] What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that.[…] The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have.[…] Live!
    • Book V, ch. II
  • [T]here are women who are for all your "times of life." They're the most wonderful sort.
    • Book V, ch. III
  • When it's for each other that people give things up they don't miss them.
    • Book VI, ch. III
  • She was a woman who, between courses, could be graceful with her elbows on the table.
    • Book VII, ch. I
  • [S]he had fortunately always her appetite for news. The pure flame of the disinterested burned there, in her cave of treasures, like a lamp in a Byzantine vault.
    • Book IX, ch. II

Prefaces (1907-1909)

  • Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.
    • Roderick Hudson
  • There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth... than that of the perfect dependence of the "moral" sense of a work of art on the amount of felt life concerned in producing it. The question comes back thus, obviously, to the kind and the degree of the artist's prime sensibility, which is the soil out of which his subject springs.
    • The Portrait of a Lady
  • To see deep difficulty braved is at any time, for the really addicted artist, to feel almost even as a pang the beautiful incentive, and to feel it verily in such sort as to wish the danger intensified. The difficulty most worth tackling can only be for him, in these conditions, the greatest the case permits of.
    • The Portrait of a Lady
  • Life being all inclusion and confusion, and art being all discrimination and selection, the latter, in search of the hard latent value with which it alone is concerned, sniffs round the mass as instinctively and unerringly as a dog suspicious of some buried bone.
    • The Spoils of Poynton
  • The fatal futility of Fact.
    • The Spoils of Poynton
  • No themes are so human as those that reflect for us, out of the confusion of life, the close connection of bliss and bale, of the things that help with the things that hurt, so dangling before us forever that bright hard medal, of so strange an alloy, one face of which is somebody's right and ease and the other somebody's pain and wrong.
    • What Maisie Knew
  • The effort really to see and really to represent is no idle business in face of the constant force that makes for muddlement. The great thing is indeed that the muddled state too is one of the very sharpest of the realities, that it also has color and form and character, has often in fact a broad and rich comicality.
    • What Maisie Knew
  • To criticize is to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation with the criticized thing and to make it one's own.
    • What Maisie Knew
  • The historian, essentially, wants more documents than he can really use; the dramatist only wants more liberties than he can really take.
    • The Aspern Papers; The Turn of the Screw; The Liar; The Two Faces
  • We are divided of course between liking to feel the past strange and liking to feel it familiar.
    • The Aspern Papers; The Turn of the Screw; The Liar; The Two Faces
  • The ever importunate murmur, "Dramatize it, dramatize it!"
    • The Altar of the Dead
  • In art economy is always beauty.
    • The Altar of the Dead
  • The terrible fluidity of self-revelation.
    • The Ambassadors

Notes of a Son and Brother (1914)

  • the fraternising, endlessly conversing group of us...under the rustling pines....[talked of] a hundred human and personal things....[It was] high talk [in the] splendid American summer drawn out to its last generosity....[the talkers constituted] a little world of easy and happy interchange, of unrestricted and yet all so instructively sane and secure association and conversation, with all its liberties and delicacies, all its mirth and earnestness.
    • From an account James gave of a trip he, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and future Harvard Law professor John Chipman Gray took to the White Mountains in August 1865, as quoted in Leon Edel's Henry James: The Untried Years: 1843-1870, p. 231.


  • Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.
    • William James, "Is Life Worth Living?," The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
  • Ideas are, in truth, force.
    • "Ideas are, in truth, forces. Infinite, too, is the power of personality. A union of the two always makes history." — Henry James (1879-1947), Charles W. Eliot (1930), 2 vol. This namesake was James' nephew, the son of William James. His life of Eliot earned him the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

Quotes about James

  • It's not that he "bites off more than he can chaw," as T. G. Appleton said of Nathan, but he chaws more than he bites off.
    • Clover Adams, letter to her father (December 1881), in The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams, ed. Ward Thoron (1936)
  • The book was very hard to write because I was too young when I started, seventeen; it was really about me and my father. There were things I couldn't deal with technically at first. Most of all, I couldn't deal with me. This is where reading Henry James helped me, with his whole idea about the center of consciousness and using a single intelligence to tell the story. He gave me the idea to make the novel happen on John's birthday…The first person is the most terrifying view of all. I tend to be in accord with James, who hated the first person perspective, which the reader has no reason to trust-why should you need this I? How is this person real by dint of that bar blaring across the page?
    • 1984 interview in Conversations with James Baldwin edited by Louis H. Pratt and Fred L. Standley (1989)
  • (What's the difference between a spokesman and a witness?) A spokesman assumes that he is speaking for others. I never assumed that I never assumed that I could. Fannie Lou Hamer, for example, could speak very eloquently for herself. What I tried to do, or to interpret and make clear was that what the Republic was doing to that woman, it was also doing to itself. No society can smash the social contract and be exempt from the consequences, and the consequences are chaos for everybody in the society. (Are there any white writers you would describe as witnesses?) Dostoyevsky, Dickens, James, Proust.
    • 1984 interview in Conversations with James Baldwin edited by Louis H. Pratt and Fred L. Standley (1989)
  • I don't, for example, conjure up characters for the express purpose of despising them, of breaking their humps in public. I used to be astounded at Henry James et al., so nice nasty about it too, soooo refined. Gothic is of no interest to me. I try not to lend energy to building grotesqueries, depicting morbid relationships, dramatizing perversity.
    • Toni Cade Bambara "What It Is I Think I'm Doing Anyhow" in The Writer on Her Work edited by Janet Sternburg (1990)
  • It took me years to ascertain that Henry James' work was giving me little pleasure: In each case I ask myself: "What the dickens is this novel about, and where does it think it's going to?" Question unanswerable! I gave up. To-day I have no recollection whatever of any characters of any events in either novel.
    • Arnold Bennett, Arnold Bennett: The Evening Standard Years, ed. A. Mylett (1974)
  • ... A page of Mr James's later novels is like some vast, high-lifted park, exposing its densely-clad slopes to the rays of a late sun, embossed with the domes of verdure of a hundred shades of green, elms, oaks, and beeches contrasting with dusky pines and the slender silvery poplars of France the whole slope drinking, absorbing the light, blending and fusing its myriad tones and shades. Eidullia, little pictures of an infinite grace, come, as in Dante, to enhance the distinguished charm of the composition.
  • James's earlier work had often substituted a character's impression of an event for the event itself. These pages do more - they change our very sense of what counts as an event in fiction. Sitting still counts; thinking, doing nothing, not moving. Emotions count, and the activity of perception as well.
  • He is as solitary in the history of the novel as Shakespeare in the history of poetry.
    • Graham Greene, 'Henry James', in Derek Verschoyle (ed.), The English Novelists: A Survey of the Novel by Twenty Contemporary Novelists (1936), p. 246
  • When I was working on China Men, I remember reading a critic who was praising the great male writers, like Flaubert and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Henry James, who were able to write great women characters. I don't remember if they said women had done men in this way or not, but I remember thinking that to finish myself as a great artist I'd have to be able to create men characters. Along with that, I was thinking that I had to do more than the first person pronoun.
  • James’s repressions and evasions are many, varied and exhausting. Why more people are not seen rushing shrieking from libraries, shredding James novels in their hands, I cannot say. I used to wonder whether enthusiasm for him was based on identification, since his passive, tentative heroes resemble many academics. Perhaps what is intolerable is his enshrinement in a soporific criticism. So much must be overlooked to crown him with laurel.
    • Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), p. 622
  • Henry James is at once the most and least appreciated figure in American writing. His authority as a novelist of unique quality and as an archetypal American has grown immeasurably in the years since his death, and in some literary circles his name has of late been turned into the password of a cult. But at the same time he is still regarded, in those circles that exert the major influence on popular education and intelligence, with the coldness and even derision that he encountered in the most depressed period of his career, when his public deserted him and he found himself almost alone.
    • Philip Rahv, 'Attitudes Toward Henry James', New Republic (15 February 1943), in F. W. Dupee (ed.), The Question of Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays (1945), p. 273
  • In 1895 the novelist Henry James acquired electric lighting; in 1896 he rode a bicycle; in 1897 he wrote on a typewriter; in 1898 he saw a cinematograph. Within a very few years he could have had a Freudian analysis, traveled in an aircraft, understood the principles of the jet-engine or even space travel.
  • Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty, and wastes upon mean motives and imperceptible 'points of view' his neat literary style, his felicitous phrases, his swift and caustic satire.
    • Oscar Wilde, in "The Decay of Lying", in Intentions (1891)
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