A resourceful and prolific writer of fiction, travel, criticism, and cultural commentary, Henry James is one of the most entertaining of American writers. His first five novels, presented complete in this Library of America volume, are filled with sparkling dialogue, masterfully timed suspense, and the romance of youthful and artistic aspiration. The European-American contrast, which gives a special dimension and sharpness to all of James’s cultural observations, is brilliantly deployed in these early works. And what is additionally appealing about them is an attentiveness, not as frequently found in his other novels, to the American scene in New York and New England.
James’s first novel, Watch and Ward (1871), written when he was only 28, is a Pygmalion-type story in which a proper Bostonian gentleman grows to love and eventually marry the much younger woman whose guardian he is.
Roderick Hudson (1875) is a novel about a headstrong and proud young American sculptor of generous native talent who loses his way among the entanglements and temptations of Italy. Set in Rome, where James was living when he wrote it, the novel describes the studios, society, and excesses of the cosmopolitan artists’ colony there.
The American (1877) was written in Paris and is filled with scenes of Parisian life, the expatriate culture of American tourists, and the closed and protective world behind the barriers of old families and traditions. The confrontations between Old World scheming and New World energy are presented through the efforts of Christopher Newman, a successful, handsome, Western businessman, to marry the beautiful, refined, and tragic Madame de Cintré.
In The Europeans (1878) a pristine, conservative, 1830s New England village is invaded by two visiting cousins, brother and sister, from the European branch of one of the town’s leading families. The comic exchanges between Eugenia, with her aura of exoticism and her morganatic marriage, and her American hosts, make this one of James’s most delightful studies in character.
Confidence (1880), a little-known and charming novel of American expatriates traveling through the great cities and watering-places of Europe, is a light drawing-room comedy about the romantic entanglements among two old friends and the two very different women they encounter.
An immensely engaging introduction to one of the great novelists of our own or any country, this is the first volume in our authoritative edition of James’s complete fiction.
William T. Stafford (1924–1991), volume editor, was a professor of English at Purdue University, a founder and editor of the journal Modern Fiction Studies, and the author of numerous studies of James’s novels, plays, and criticism.