Invention by experience

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Henry James (1843-1916)

Henry James was born in New York in 1843.  Henry James was a true cosmopolite. He was a citizen of the world and moved freely in and out of drawing rooms in Europe, England, and America. He was perhaps more at home in Europe than he was in America, but the roots of his life belong to the American continent. Thus, with some exceptions, most of his works deal with some type of confrontation between an American and a European.

In his twelfth year, his father took the entire family to Europe, where they moved freely from Switzerland to France to Germany in pursuit of stimulating conversation and intellectual ideas. When the family returned from Europe, the elder James decided to settle in New England. He chose Cambridge because this was the center of American intellectual thought. Many of the writers of Cambridge, Boston, and nearby Concord, where Emerson and Thoreau lived, were often visitors in the James household. It was in Boston that James met the first great influence on his literary career. In Boston, Henry James enrolled briefly in the Harvard Law School but soon withdrew to devote himself to writing. By the late 1860s, James had done some reviewing and had sold one work of fiction to the Atlantic Monthly. In 1876, when he was in his thirty-third year, James made the momentous decision to take up residence abroad. With the exception of short trips to various parts of the world, he lived the rest of his life in and near London. He became a major literary figure, a friend of Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Bernard Berenson.

James' novels are concerned with a society of people who are interested in subtle ideas and subtle refinements. There are no really poor people in his novels. He wrote about people who had enough money to allow them to develop and cultivate their higher natures. His novels develop with a deliberate slowness and conscientious refinement.

His greatest characters (or central characters) are almost always Americans. But at the same time, some of his most unpleasant characters are also Americans. But the important thing is that the characters who change, mature, and achieve an element of greatness are almost always Americans.

Henry James wrote on the theme of the American versus the European with any degree of success. Embodied in this contrast is the moral theme in which the innocence of the American is contrasted with the knowledge and experience (and evil) of the European. Daisy Miller is one of James' earliest works involving this theme.

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