Ralph Waldo Emerson's son, Edward, visited them one night and left the following account: "The adipose and affectionate Wilkie, as his father called him, would say something and be instantly corrected by the little cock-sparrow Bob, the youngest, but good-naturedly defend his statement, and then Henry junior would emerge from his silence in defense of Wilkie.
Master of reality: on Henry James' non-fiction
Then Bob would be more impertinently insistent, and Mr. James would advance as Moderator, and William, the eldest, would join in. The voice of the Moderator presently would be drowned by the combatants and he soon came down vigorously into the arena, and when in the excited argument the dinner knives might not be absent from eagerly gesticulating hands, dear Mrs.
James, more conventional, but bright as well as motherly, would look at me, laughingly reassuring, saying, 'Don't be disturbed, Edward; they won't stab each other. This is usual when the boys come home. Emerson went on to say that Mrs. James considered this kind of debate entirely acceptable, as it promoted a mature and picturesque speech, which became all the more Gaelic as the conversation descended to its lower levels.
And even when they blundered they managed to save themselves with wit.
Other visitors as well recounted odd stories of heated discussion on morals, taste, and literature, and of humorous curses against the father, consigning his mashed potatoes to eternal lumpiness. As the boys grew up, they learned that not to question and to have no opinion was to shirk not only one's intellectual duty but one's moral responsibilities. As a result, both Henry and William learned to observe things, people, and art, a trait inherited from their even more adept father but largely denied to their brothers and sister.
Alice produced a diary, but it was not published in her lifetime.
The second lesson from the James brothers is that many of the choices we make in our own life regarding work, love, sex , and religion may be heavily influenced by what has already happened in the lives of our immediate forebears. And although the patterns may already have been laid down, we at least may still have the freedom to find unique ways to work them out. To get this in the Jameses, however, the reader must know that one of the biggest influences on William and Henry's career was their grandfather and William's namesake , William James of Albany, a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian who married three times and sired 16 children.
If we begin to look across just these three generations, from William of Albany to his son Henry James, Sr. One concerns how the James brothers came to the vocation of writing. When William of Albany came from Ireland to America in , he landed with only a Bible and a desire to see one of the Revolutionary battlefields.
Henry James Today
His subsequent successes were wholly in business. He did no writing, and his speeches, while recorded for posterity because of his importance as a leading citizen, were not memorable. His son Henry, however, hated business but loved the luxurious life that the family wealth afforded him. He obliged his father by starting divinity training at Princeton but fled after two-and-a-half years to make his own way in the world, first as a typesetter, then as a writer and public lecturer on topics of Christian socialism.
He became a free-spirited religious philosopher, attracted to the teachings of sects like the Sandemanians, who believed that the greatest sin among Christians was pride in their morality , and he took up the mystical theology of Emanuel Swedenborg, which advocated the inward spiritual transformation of consciousness. Insofar as they saw themselves as inheritors of this Swedenborgian and Transcendentalist legacy, William and Henry each took their father's spiritualized psychology one step further, in a more secular and scientific age.
William helped launch the modern scientific study of consciousness, while Henry wrote about the internal workings of the mind when faced with an unsolvable moral dilemma. Like their father, who was actually better at it than they were, William and Henry became writers. Their ideas in many ways were the same, but now transmuted by the differences between the generations.
While their father wrote about arcane religious subjects, William wrote textbooks and Henry novels that conveyed their ideas to popular audiences and were widely read.
To this, as a teacher at Harvard and a public lecturer, William added a lively and colorful lecture style, again taking after his father. The problem was that Henry James, Sr. William, on the other hand, took his father so seriously he almost never found a niche.
His father told him he could be anything he wanted, but each time he chose something the father said, "Well that's alright, but, don't become too narrow. First he chose painting but then, to please his father, turned to science. William's new involvement in laboratory work turned out to be a good escape from the suffocating influence of his father's religious ideas, except that William himself soon began to choke on the antiphilosophical and antireligious biases of the reductionistic scientists around him.
Only after recovering from a near- suicidal depression , by "believing to believe" in free will , and by acknowledging that consciousness might have a life of its own independent of the physical body, did William finally discover the field of psychology, which he approached with a philosophical bent.
A third lesson from the James brothers is that birth order is no guarantee that the oldest always comes out on top. Henry's biographer, Leon Edel, calls this the Jacob and Esau complex, a Biblical allusion to the twin sons of Isaac in the Book of Genesis, Esau was born first, but Jacob arrived immediately thereafter by holding on to his brother's foot.
When they grew up, the older brother served the younger, after Jacob appropriated Esau's inheritance and stole their father's blessing. Henry, the younger, was admiring of his older brother, always looking for approval, while early on stealing most of the thunder in parental and public acclaim. William, on the other hand, while being devoted, affectionate, and Henry's critical sounding board, was also envious , frequently admonishing, and ever guilt ridden because he was dependent on the family coffers.
The core of the problem was William's tardiness in getting off the ground. He mucked around until he was 30 before he even found a job, and while he had numerous articles and reviews in print, did not publish his first book, the literary remains of his father, for 13 years beyond that.
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Henry went straight for his vocational goal to become a self-supporting writer, and by the time of William's first book was producing the first complete edition of his collected works to date--in 13 volumes. William's reaction to Henry's birth is not recorded he was only one at the time , but the Freudians would predict displacement anxiety. One anecdote seems typical. William, age eight, used to go off in the city with others his own age.
Henry, just barely seven, would always want to come along.
John Banville: Novels were never the same after Henry James
At one point, begging to be taken, he was rebuffed by William: "I play with boys who curse and swear. All their moving about on two continents, however, threw them more closely together as they were growing up. Their lives fused and they became dependent on each other emotionally. Their letters often show an endearing affection, William opening with "beloved Arry" and often signing "Bro.
Both were constantly concerned with each other's welfare. Henry found it dismally unsatisfactory and difficult to write to William without knowing every detail about his health and well-being. Henry, for his part, would give a running commentary of his own ups and downs, describing in vivid terms a languishing depression or a "moving intestinal drama. The brothers helped each other in big and small ways. There is a record of one touching moment when Henry, who had been the only one of the two able to get from England to Boston upon their father's death, stood over the grave by himself and read William's farewell letter, which had arrived too late.
When William was unable to deliver his presidential address to the British Society for Psychical Research, brother Henry rose to the podium and read it in his place. When William appeared on Henry's doorstep in , desperately ill with a heart condition, Henry, with the aid of William's wife, Alice, lovingly nursed him back to health. Especially as they aged, William was concerned about Henry's abject loneliness , partly brought on by the nature of his vocation; Henry was, after all, always watching, always observing, a habitual outsider.
It was a way of living that he developed to a degree well beyond his brother. But William's concern was also due to the fact that Henry had remained single with no family of his own. As William lay dying in , he made his wife promise to be there for Henry at his end. All their lives the two of them had genuine divergences of taste and opinion. Henry found seances "dull and repulsive" and particularly disliked the riffraff they attracted. William was a cautious believer who pleaded for tolerance; as a result, he regularly attracted a coterie of cranks, eccentrics, and radicals. Henry delighted in the refinement of civilized etiquette.
William preferred the underdog, the chaotic, and the exception to the rule, and while he could carry himself with aplomb in the most cosmopolitan company, he was tactfully frank in his opinions about pretension and spoke out against dogmatism. He is an aesthetic solitary. His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the autumn evening just brushes the dusky window. Henry James was an American-born British writer and is regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He is best known for a number of novels showing Americans encountering Europe and Europeans.
James imaginative use of point of view, interior monologue and possibly unreliable narrators in his own novels and tales brought a new depth and interest to narrative fiction. Its intense focus on the consciousness of his major characters in his later work foreshadows extensive developments in 20th century fiction. The Portrait of a Lady - the story of a spirited young American woman, Isabel Archer, who "affronts her destiny" and finds it overwhelming.
She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently becomes the victim of Machiavellian scheming by two American expatriates.