100 Heroes: Henry James

The gay man who became one of the world's great writers.

100 Heroes: Henry James

Henry James was an author – he’s regarded as a key transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism, and is considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language.

He is best-remembered for his novella The Turn of the Screw, but also wrote a number of novels dealing with the social and marital interplay between émigré Americans, English people, and continental Europeans, including The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove.

Early Life

Born in 1843 in New York City, James came from a wealthy family. The family travelled extensively, and James received a broad education.


James had his writing published in 1863 – a review of a stage performance. His first novel – Watch and Ward – was published in 1871.

He continued to travel extensively – spending long periods in Europe – supporting himself as a freelance writer.

By 1869 he had decided to settle in London and he remained living in Europe for the remainder of his life.

He was a prolific writer. His 1978 story of Daisy Miller helped establish his reputation in both the UK and America – it was notable at the time as it depicted a woman whose behaviour is outside the social norms of Europe.

The Portrait of a Lady – considered one of his most important books – was published in 1881, and his work continued to steadily build his reputation and find critical and commercial success.

Personal life

A self-proclaimed bachelor, James was known by contemporaries to be a gay man. He was particularly noted for writing large volumes of affectionate and erotic letters to younger men.

Notable relationships included Hendrik Christian Andersen – an American sculptor whom James met in Rome in 1899 – at the time, Andersen was 27 and James was 56. Other friends and possible lovers included Howard Sturgis, Hugh Walpole, and Walter Berry.

James died in 1916 in London.

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