Henry James was born in New York City on April 15, 1843, into a wealthy family. He was the second of five children. His father, Henry James Sr., was a noted intellectual who knew many of the great figures of the day. As a young boy, Henry James encountered Ralph Waldo Emerson at the family home, and he was introduced to the famous English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.
In 1855, when he was twelve, James traveled with his family to Europe, visiting London, Paris, and Switzerland. From 1856 to 1858, the family lived in Paris and later spent time in Germany and Geneva before returning to Newport, Rhode Island, in 1860. James attended various schools and also had private tutors.
From 1862 to 1863 James attended Harvard Law School but did not graduate. His true interest was not the law but literature. The following year he published his first short story, ”A Tragedy of Error,” and from then on his life was devoted to literature.
From 1869 to the early 1870s James traveled extensively in Europe, settling in Paris in 1875, where he met leading writers such as Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert, and then in London in 1876, where he soon became acquainted with such literary giants as George Eliot and Matthew Arnold. Later he befriended other writers, including Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, and the American Stephen Crane.
During his long career, James’s literary output was prodigious. James published ten long novels and ten short ones; two incomplete novels were published after his death. He also wrote 112 short stories, nine plays, and 450 articles, mainly literary criticism and travel essays.
Some of his most notable works include the novels Washington Square (1880) The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). Among his best-known short stories are “Daisy Miller” (1878), “The Turn of the Screw” (1898) and “The Beast in the Jungle,” which was published in his short story collection, The Better Sort (1903). In 1884 he published his influential essay, “The Art of Fiction.”
In 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I, James, who had lived in England since 1876, became a naturalized British subject. He did this as a show of support for his adopted country and a protest against the decision of the United States not to enter the war. The Order of Merit was conferred on him in 1916.
James never married and in his lifetime his works did not attain popular success, but his reputation steadily climbed during the course of the twentieth century. He died in London on February 28, 1916, at the age of seventy-two.