Henry James and the Art of Auto/biography

by Mirosława Buchholtz (Author)
©2014 Monographs 222 Pages
Series: Dis/Continuities, Volume 6


Henry James (1843–1916) has been widely acclaimed for the elegance of his prose, the incisiveness of his social comment, and the subtlety of his psychological analyses. Whereas James’s tales and novels have been carefully studied over the past decades, his non-fiction, including literary criticism, travel writing, biographies, and autobiographies, still remains at the margins of critical activities. This study seeks to explore some of these neglected aspects of James’s work, while at the same time interrogating the traditional formula of literary auto/biography. It also attempts to piece together an image of James as a subject and object of biographical and autobiographical endeavors, including portraiture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Acknowledgments
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction
  • CHAPTER I: Auto/biographical Studies
  • CHAPTER II: All of James’s Biographers
  • CHAPTER III: Jamesian Auto/biographies
  • CHAPTER IV: A Photographic Remembrance
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A: A Chronology of Henry James’s Life
  • Appendix B: Published Works of Henry James
  • Appendix C: New York Edition
  • Index
  • Series index

← 12 | 13 → List of Figures

Fig. 1

Henry James Senior and Henry James Junior in Mathew Brady’s New York studio, 1854

Fig. 2

Henry James in Geneva 1859/1860

Fig. 3

William James in Geneva 1859/1860

Fig. 4

Titian, Man with a Glove, ca. 1520

Fig. 5

William James – “Man with a Glove,” Newport, 1860

Fig. 6

Henry James – another “Man with a Glove,” Newport, 1860

Fig. 7

Henry James at the turn of the 1850s and 60s

Fig. 8

Henry James, portrait of the author, 1890

Fig. 9

Henry James on vacation, 1897

Fig. 10

Henry James in his garden at Lamb House, Rye

Fig. 11

Henry James and William James, Lamb House, Rye, 1901

Fig. 12

Henry James and William James, beginning of the twentieth century

Fig. 13

Honoré Daumier, Passers-by in Front of a Print Shop, mid-nineteenth century

Fig. 14

Daumier’s cartoon of the Salon

Fig. 15

Henry James and Daumier, New York, 1906

Fig. 16

Henry James in New York, 1906

Fig. 17

Portrait of Henry James, by John La Farge, ca. 1860

Fig. 18

Portrait of Henry James, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1894

Fig. 19

Portrait of Henry James, by William Rothenstein, 1897

Fig. 20

Portrait of Henry James, by Jacques-Émile Blanche, 1908

Fig. 21

Portrait of Samuel Johnson, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1772

Fig. 22

Portrait of Henry James, by John Singer Sargent, 1913

Fig. 23

Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes, by John Singer Sargent, 1897

Fig. 24

Henry James and Hendrik Andersen, Rome, 1907← 13 | 14 →

← 14 | 15 → Introduction

In English-speaking countries, Henry James (1843–1916) has been widely acclaimed for the elegance of his prose, the incisiveness of his social comment, and the subtlety of his psychological analyses. Along with James Joyce and Marcel Proust, he has been credited with the renewal of the novel as a genre. Acknowledged as one of the main proponents and practitioners of psychological realism, James stood (and sought to negotiate) between America (where he was born) and Europe (where he settled down), between the nineteenth-century cultural traditions (which he inherited) and the challenge of the twentieth century (of which he was intensely aware), as well as between popular fiction and the novel as an art form.

Whereas James’s tales and novels have been carefully studied over the past decades, his non-fiction still remains at the margins of critical activities. Researchers tend to forget that James was not only a fiction writer, but also a literary critic, travel writer, biographer, and autobiographer. The present study seeks to explore some of these neglected aspects of James’s work, while at the same time interrogating the traditional formula of literary biography. For James, living and writing were closely intertwined, mutually dependent activities. This study addresses both his life and work in a way that neither simplifies nor closes the debate about him as a man and a writer. It also attempts to piece together an image of James as a subject and object of biographical and autobiographical endeavors.

Chapter I: “Auto/biographical Studies” outlines past and present perspectives on biographical and autobiographical writing. Although still often viewed as distinct semi-literary genres, the two have recently and increasingly come together under the heading of “life writing.” Hinging on the concepts of subjectivity and representation, they can no longer be distinguished according to categories that are as unstable as the sameness of the person who writes and the person whose life is being narrated. Hence the idea of reflecting the tension between biography and autobiography through the use of one slashed word: auto/biography. As a form of historical writing, auto/biography has also been questioned over the past decades in relation to its claims to truth and authenticity. Like any historical account, auto/biography may well be seen as an act of turning selected (sometimes disconnected) events into a continuous narrative and, in that sense, an act of fiction writing. In view of such massive doubts, what constitutes and justifies auto/biography is an auto/biographical pact between the writer ← 15 | 16 → and the reader. The latter, however, may not be aware of the writer’s auto/biographical act inscribed in the pact.

Chapter II: “All of James’s Biographers” offers an account of biographical endeavors concerning Henry James from the earliest reminiscences of his contemporaries to life-and-works studies (with the emphasis on works), to full-fledged, thoroughly researched biographies, and eventually to recent fictional biographical tales and novels. It seeks to show how biographism may become the site of intense rivalry over power and knowledge. From the mid-twentieth century James’s biography (and in a sense James as symbolic capital) has been monopolized by Leon Edel, a scholar who did more than anyone else to tell the story of the writer’s life in a way that would strengthen James’s position as a literary master. In doing so, Edel revealed his own sensibilities and his own thirst for fame. Until recently, the activities of other biographers consisted of circumventing Edel’s overpowering presence in the field of James studies by adopting one of the three possible strategies of avoidance: first, by addressing the lives of other members of the James family; second, by choosing the formula of a biographical series; or, third, by exploring one aspect or stage of James’s life. It was only in the final decade of the twentieth century that Edel’s apparent ownership of James’s life was questioned in biographies by Fred Kaplan and Sheldon M. Novick.

Apart from being a subject of biographical writing, James was also the author of books classified as biography and autobiography. Chapter III: “Jamesian Auto/biographies” discusses his biographies of Nathaniel Hawthorne and William Wetmore Story, as well as his late autobiographical texts: A Small Boy and Others (1913), Notes of a Son and Brother (1914), and The Middle Years (1917). Far from verifying the truth and authenticity claims, the chapter focuses on the tension between biography and self-invention present in all these texts. It also explores the conflicts resulting from the incompatibility of James’s auto/biographical acts and his pacts with the subjects’ families, friends, homelands, and the readers. The chapter offers an account of recent scholarship on James’s auto/biographical writing, juxtaposing theoretical perspectives from which James’s biographies and autobiographies have been viewed – so far, separately. It also exposes the normative formulas employed by scholars who seek to objectify various interpretations of James’s auto/biographies.

Henry James witnessed the rise of a new technology that has been used ever since as a way of supplementing human memory. Chapter IV: “A Photographic Remembrance” begins with an outline of the history of photography. It explores James’s changing attitude to this new form of documentation which aspired to become (within his lifetime) a form of art. A close scrutiny of selected extant photographs of James (from youth to old age) is followed by an account of other ← 16 | 17 → examples of portraiture: paintings, engravings, sculptures, and cartoons, all of them now available to readers worldwide through reproductions in books or on the Internet. James’s ambivalence about photography in his later years reflects his ambivalence about the art of auto/biography. A photograph is a joint effort of the photographer (in some cases a female artist) and the model. Hence it also involves the tension inscribed in the auto/biographical p/act discussed throughout this study of James, his life, and afterlife.← 17 | 18 →

← 18 | 19 → CHAPTER I
Auto/biographical Studies


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Kunstgattung Autobiographie Life-Writing Interkulturalität
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 222 pp., 24 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Mirosława Buchholtz (Author)

Mirosława Buchholtz is Professor of English and Director of the English Department at Nicolaus Copernikus University (Poland), where she teaches American and Canadian literature, film adaptations of literature and biography, life writing and postcolonial studies. She has published books and articles on Henry James, most recently she co-edited the volume Henry James Goes to War.


Title: Henry James and the Art of Auto/biography
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226 pages