Henry James Short Stories

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

Henry James was the 1860s' modern voice for Americanized behaviors. There is much more to James' list of accomplishments than the flirtatious ''Daisy Miller'' and the ghastly ''Turn of the Screw.''

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Having produced a wealth of works in the latter half of the 19th century into the 20th century, Henry James is one of the most accomplished American writers. His experiences and observations of American society and European society have influenced the profound insights he shares through his characters and his plots. Art, perhaps, mimics art, considering James, an American, traveled to England and became an English citizen. Of course, while James has produced some quite popular novels, his short stories, as well, have much to say about society and about life. His topic repertoire extends beyond observation of cultures and relationships. Throughout his short stories, he explores everything from love to loss to ghosts. Check out his vast collection of shorter works.

An American Beyond

In Henry James' works, England's old-world style often clashed with America's new world traditions. Americans are brash, Europeans refined, and such juxtaposition is sure to create some interesting relationships among James' characters. Just take Jackson Lemon. In ''Lady Barberina,'' Lemon, a wealthy American, marries the daughter of Lord Canterville and takes her home to American. Their cultural differences clash, as the lady must now learn more American ways.

In ''Patagonia,'' Grace Mavis, while on a trip to meet her fiancé, struggles to behave appropriately aboard a ship sailing from Boston to Liverpool. Her actions lack decorum in the eyes of the ladies of society. While ''Lady Barberina'' highlights the differences in expectations and traditions between lovers, ''Patagonia'' offers a more stringent social commentary on how ladies are expected to act in more established cultures. The American ways shown by James emphasize the innocent yet newness of American tradition. It's not steeped in generations of influence.

Henry James
Henry James

Love's Not Lost

James once wrote, ''And remember this, that if you've been hated, you've also been loved.'' And, there is much ado about love throughout James' stories. In ''Crawford's Consistency,'' the main character, Crawford, marries a lower-class girl after his engagement with a more high-class lady is broken off. While his new wife may have been his second choice, he shows society (and readers) that he will stick by his wife through their struggles. That is love.

In a more malevolent love tale, ''A Tragedy of Error,'' James exposes love of a different kind. Hortense Bernier is involved in a love triangle and decides to hire someone to kill her husband. Alas, though, the plan goes awry, and the hitman kills Bernier's lover instead. And, throughout James' short stories, love is patient, it is kind, it is mysterious, and it is deceptive. If it's love, it wears many faces.

Ghastly Renditions

Life, love, and death are three literary constants, and James has approached all such topics. Sometimes, the topics even entwine. ''Sir Edmund Orme,'' a ghost story, involves the ghost of a jilted lover of Mrs. Marden. The ghost shows Charlotte, Marden's daughter, that flirtatious behavior is distasteful. If only Charlotte's mother was successful in conveying the message, the ghost would be an extraneous character, but, alas, perhaps the dead can be more convincing.

Ghosts, too, can be deceptive. In ''The Ghostly Rental,'' Captain Diamond owns rental property, which he rents to a ghost. This ghost is that of his daughter. He had killed her years ago for hosting a male suitor at their house. Little does he know, she is very much living. In a twist of the plot, when the captain is dying, his daughter sees the actual, real ghost of her father. Even in death, life is tricky.

The Real Thing
The Real Thing

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