Henry James was a key figure in the literature of the late 19th century and early 20th century, serving as a vital bridge between literary realism, fin de siècle decadence, and 20th century modernism. A prolific writer, he wrote fiction, travel writing, essays, book reviews, and plays, and is perhaps most well-known for his novel The Portrait of a Lady and the wildly popular horror novella The Turn of the Screw, which was released serially in 1898.
James's father was a religious philosopher, lecturer, and writer, and invested significant time into his children's education. Because of his father's profession, the family traveled to London, Paris, Geneva, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Rhode Island over the course of James's childhood, and James became fluent in French under the tutelage of instructors that the family hired abroad. In 1860, the family returned to the United States and settled in New England, where Henry James would remain until 1869.
In 1869, James embarked upon a 14-month trip across Europe, where he met many contemporary British intellectuals and writers of the period, including John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot. After several failed attempts to secure work in Europe, James returned to New York before going back to Europe and settling in London in 1876. In London, James was able to begin writing serialized novels.
Once in Europe, James became increasingly influenced by the literary realists of the 1880s in England and France such as George Eliot, Emile Zola, and Ivan Turgenev. While much of his early work explores Americans in Europe—The American (1877) and Daisy Miller (1878) in particular—later on, James's work moved on to incorporate a variety of different themes. The Portrait of a Lady serves as a study of female agency, and his later serialized novels, like The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers, mix Gothic imagery, horror, and modernism. He was also a leading writer for Oscar Wilde's fin de siècle literary magazine The Yellow Book, which published some of the first "modernist" fiction in England and was hailed for its experimentalism.
James is known for straddling the transition between literary movements and for pioneering "transcontinental" literature. Both American and European, modernist and Victorian, and a master of multiple forms, James has proved to be an enduring figure in literary history. There remains a significant debate about James's personal life among biographers, historians, and critics; James never married, and recently many critics have speculated that he was gay, including literary critic Eve Sedgwick and writer Colm Tóibín.