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James, Henry (1843-1916)  
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In The Sacred Fount (1901), for example, the observer-figure narrates the story, and hypothesizes that, in the heterosexual relationships he is evaluating, the elder partner draws energy from the younger, who weakens as a result.

In The Ambassadors, traditionally hailed as James's masterpiece, Lambert Strether, an aging male character, performs the role of the observer. Strether travels to Paris, on behalf of his fiancée, to watch over and return to her her errant son, Chad Newsome. Through Chad and his paramour, Marie de Vionnet, Strether learns to embrace life and to "live all you can."

Repudiating his fiancée and his female confidante in Paris, Newsome embarks on a new life, alone, but rejuvenated. The seemingly disinterested position of the observer, therefore, often gives way to a friendship with a younger man, which empowers the observer to repudiate conventional restrictions.

Male Friendship in James's Short Stories

James's short stories frequently focus on the theme of male friendship. Texts like "The Pupil" (1890) portray relationships between older men and their protégés, and trace enriching, if short-lived, associations.

In "The Author of Beltraffio" (1884), a young critic attempts to resolve the domestic difficulties of his literary hero, Mark Ambient, only to find that his intervention into Ambient's marriage indirectly causes the death of Ambient's son.

In "The Middle Years" (1893), a relationship develops between a dying author and a young doctor at a resort. This relationship enriches the doctor's cultural existence, but also results in his poverty, since his attention to the author enrages his female patron, who cuts the doctor out of her will.

As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has argued, The Beast in the Jungle (1903) comprises a case study of "homosexual panic." Moreover, stories like "The Jolly Corner" (1908), which involves a protagonist who confronts himself as he might have been had he not left America for a solitary existence in Europe, dramatize the ways in which the protagonist comes to embrace heterosexual love.

Even though the above might suggest that James's portrayals of women suffer as a result of the privileged male relationships in his short stories, and to a certain extent this is so, at the same time, James's treatment of women is also deft and skillful, and has led many feminist critics to applaud his representations of femininity.

James, a man of his time, did not support women's rights (and was frequently quite dismissive of female writers), but his female characters are among the most positively represented in British and American literature.


In turn, although James's ambivalence toward gay love and lifestyles propels his fiction, his portrayals of male friendships are provocative and powerful. Indeed, the fated nature of these relationships testifies not only to James's inability to conceive of a space wherein homosexual love might be dramatized in fruition, it also points to the pall cast by the Wilde trials, wherein the specter of Oscar shadowed the comportment of many gay men of his age.

James, caught within a myriad of conflicting cultural positions--an American living in Europe, a gay man living in a normative heterosexual world--was able to channel his own marginality into literary texts that document the anxieties of his age, be they social, sexual, or cultural. In so doing, this closeted gay man was able to transform his personal difficulties into novels that represent and document a crucial stage in the development of homotextual traditions.

Priscilla L. Walton

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Allen, Elizabeth. A Woman's Place in the Novels of Henry James. London: MacMillan, 1984.

Bersani, Leo. "The Jamesian Lie." A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature. Boston: Little Brown, 1976.

Edel, Leon. Henry James: A Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.

Hall, Richard. "Henry James: Interpreting an Obsessive Memory." Literary Visions of Homosexuality. Stuart Kellogg, ed. New York: Haworth Press, 1983.

Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius. New York: William Morrow, 1992.

Martin, Robert K. "'The High Felicity' of Comradeship: A New Reading of Roderick Hudson." American Literary Realism 2 (1978): 100-108.

Moon, Michael. "Sexuality and Visual Terrorism in The Wings of the Dove." Criticism 28.4 (1986): 427-443.

Person, Leland S. "Henry James, George Sand, and the Suspense of Masculinity." PMLA 106 (1991): 515-528.

_____. "Strether's 'Penal Form': The Pleasure of Imaginative Surrender." Papers on Language & Literature 23 (1987): 27-40.

Savoy, Eric. "Hypocrite Lecteur: Walter Pater, Henry James and Homotextual Politics." Dalhousie Review 72.1 (1992): 12-36.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistomology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Seltzer, Mark. Henry James and the Art of Power. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984.

Walton, Priscilla L. The Disruption of the Feminine in Henry James. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Winner, Viola Hopkins. "The Artist and the Man in 'The Author of Beltraffio.'" PMLA 83 (1968): 102-108.


    Citation Information
    Author: Walton, Priscilla L.  
    Entry Title: James, Henry  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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