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James, Henry (1843-1916)  
 
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Though closeted, Henry James had a number of intimate relations with young men, and his sexual orientation imbued his fiction.

James was born in New York City, on April 15, 1843. He belonged to a prominent American family, whose cultural milieu consisted of the intelligentsia of New England, and whose scholarly and social connections extended throughout Europe. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a noted Swedenborgian philosopher and man of letters, a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle.

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Because Henry Sr. favored frequent changes of scenery, the James children spent their childhood divided between the United States and Europe, and were educated on both continents. The family returned to New England before war broke out between the states, and while helping to extinguish a fire in Newport, Henry Jr. sustained what he later called "an obscure hurt." This injury became the source of much biographical and critical speculation about the cause of the author's lack of sexual interest in women.

Henry's eldest brother, William, who went on to become an acclaimed philosopher and psychologist, showed early artistic and academic promise. Henry Jr. attempted to define a space for himself distinct from both his brother and his father. In the early 1860s, Henry began to write short stories and reviews for the Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, and the North American Review.

Attracted by the European cultural environment, Henry traveled throughout Europe for fifteen months but was forced to return to the United States in April 1870, because of financial difficulties. James then managed to secure a position as the New York Tribune correspondent in Paris and sailed again for Europe in 1875. He decided to make England his permanent home and resided in London until 1897, when he retired to Lamb House, in Rye.

In 1914, on the outbreak of World War I, the author became involved in the war effort, and devoted much time and energy to the support of British troops. Disturbed by the U.S. government's reluctance to enter the war, James became a British citizen in 1915. He received one of England's highest honors in 1916, an Order of Merit; shortly thereafter, his health deteriorating, James died of a stroke in Lamb House on February 28, 1916.

James's writing career was long and productive. He published nearly thirty novels and novellas, in addition to a myriad of short stories, travel sketches, and critical essays. With the advent of Daisy Miller, in 1878, he claimed a place in London's distinguished writing circle, boasting, at one point, that he had accepted more than 107 dinner invitations in one social season.

James won literary acclaim for his artistic devotion to the form of the novel, innovating the dramatic presentation of character and perfecting the technique of narrative "point of view." By the 1890s, however, his writings had begun to lose their popular appeal. As one commentator noted, James was the most famous novelist in Europe who was never read.

In an effort to reestablish his popularity (and to bolster his finances), James turned to drama. His efforts met with minimal success, and when he was booed off the stage at the London opening of Guy Domville in January 1895, he decided to restrict his literary endeavors to writing short stories and novels.

Although James's later fiction was never to meet with the popularity of his earlier writings, it always elicited favorable critical reviews. Indeed, at the turn of the century, the author produced the three novels of the "Major Phase"--The Ambassadors (1903), The Wings of the Dove (1902), and The Golden Bowl (1904)--which are generally regarded as his literary masterpieces.

James's many close friendships with women have received a great deal of critical and biographical attention. Following the author's lead in his autobiographical Notes of a Son and Brother (1914), critics concentrated on James's early involvement with his cousin Minny Temple, whose death in 1870 was thought to be one of the reasons behind his decision to remain single.

James maintained a warm friendship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, and some biographers have speculated that her suicide in 1894 was due to her inability to establish a reciprocal romantic relationship with James.

Reclaiming James's Homosexuality

Yet, despite (or perhaps, because of) the scholarly scrutiny focused on James's friendships with women, his sexuality and sexual preferences remained shrouded until the 1980s and 1990s. Richard Hall has claimed that heterosexual critics of James have been unable to decipher the signs of his homosexuality, and although some pioneering critics, like Robert K. Martin, argued in the 1970s that James's sexual orientation imbued his fiction, the bulk of Jamesian scholarship remained under the influence of the "official" biographical data.

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