Henry James (1943 - 1916) was a British-American writer who lived in Britain for most of his career. He is considered to be one of the greatest writers in the English language and a trailblazer in the 19th-century tradition of literary realism. He developed a trademark style that involved writing from the perspective of a character within the narrative, thus allowing his reader a glimpse into the fictional individual's consciousness and motivations. James's fiction reflects his goal of crafting a realistic representation of life; it was important to him that his readers could relate to his work. James's contributions to literature are still prevalent nearly a century after his death; after all, Henry James was one of the first writers to experiment with point-of-view, interior monologues, and unreliable narrators. In addition to his fiction work, James also wrote articles, travelogues, biographies, an autobiography, literary criticism, and even stage plays.
In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel references Henry James's 1880 novel Washington Square, which was the basis for Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 play The Heiress. Helen Bechdel plays the lead in The Heiress, which Bechdel sees as a reflection of her parents' relationship. The protagonist of The Heiress, Morris Townsend, takes the plain, dull Catherine Sloper to Europe for six months. Similarly, Bechdel's parents live in Germany when they are first married.
Bechdel then goes on to compare the early days of her parents' marriage to James's 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady, in which the heroine, Isabel Archer, goes to Europe and marries a poor art collector named Gilbert Osmond. Eventually, Isabel learns that Gilbert has been having an affair with Madame Merle, the woman who introduced her to Gilbert in the first place. The Bechdels experience a similar conflict after Helen eventually discovers Bruce's affair with one of his army colleagues.