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Henry James
Anglo-American writer
(1843-1916)



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To kill a human being is, after all, the least injury you can do him.
-- My Friend Bingham (1867)

It's a complex fate, being an American, and one of the responsibilities it entails is fighting against a superstitious valuation of Europe.
-- Letter to Charles Eliot Norton (4 February 1872).

It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.
-- Hawthorne (1879), ch. I: The Early Years

One might enumerate the items of high civilization, as it exists in other countries, which are absent from the texture of American life, until it should become a wonder to know what was left. No State, in the European sense of the word, and indeed barely a specific national name. No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivy ruins; no cathedrals nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great universities nor public schools -- no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class -- no Epsom nor Ascot!... The natural remark in the almost lurid light of such an indictment, would be that if these things are left out, everything is left out.
-- Hawthorne (1879), ch. II: Early Manhood

Whatever question there may be of his talent, there can be none, I think, of his genius. It was a slim and crooked one; but it was eminently personal. He was imperfect, unfinished, inartistic;
he was worse than provincial — he was parochial; it is only at his best that he is readable.
-- Speaking of Thoreau in: Hawthorne (1879), ch. IV: Brook Farm and Concord

There are few hours in life more more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
-- The Portrait of a Lady (1881)

There are few things more exciting to me, in short, than a psychological reason.
-- The Art of the Fiction (1894)

The advantage, the luxury, as well as the torment and responsibility of the novelist, is that there is no limit to what he may attempt as an executant — no limit to his possible experiments, efforts, discoveries, successes.
-- The Art of the Fiction (1894)

Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web, of the finest silken threads, suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.
-- The Art of the Fiction (1894)

Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions.
-- The Art of the Fiction (1894)

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be.
-- The Turn of the Screw (1898), Introduction

It was as if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight ofsubjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly out of alleys that we perceived to be blind, closing with a little bang that made us look at each other — for, like all bangs, it was something louder than we had intended— the doors we had indiscreetly opened.
-- The Turn of the Screw (1898), Ch. XIII

The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance — all strewn with crumpled playbills.
-- The Turn of the Screw (1898), Ch. XIII

With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes, I held him—it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.
-- The Turn of the Screw (1898), Ch. XXIV

London doesn't love the latent or the lurking, has neither time, nor taste, nor sense for anything less discernable than the red flag in front of the steam-roller. It wants cash over the counter and letters ten feet high.
-- The Awkward Age (1899)

Live all you can — it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had?... What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that...The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have.... Live!
-- The Ambassadors (1903), book V, ch. II

She was a woman who, between courses, could be graceful with her elbows on the table.
-- The Ambassadors (1903), book VII, ch. I.

I had the foretaste of what I was presently to feel in California — when the general aspect of that wondrous realm kept suggesting to me a sort of prepared but unconscious and inexperienced Italy, the primitive plate, in perfect condition, but with the impression of History all yet to be made.
-- The American Scene, ch. 14: Florida, pt. VII

The Story is just the just the spoiled child of art.
-- The Ambassadors (1909 ed.), preface

The historian, essentially, wants more documents than he can really use; the dramatist only wants more liberties than he can really take.
-- Prefaces (1909), "The Aspern Papers"

To criticize is to appreciate, to appropriate, to take intellectual possession, to establish in fine a relation with the criticized thing and to make it one's own.
-- Prefaces (1909), "What Maisie Knew"

I could come back to America... to die -- but never, never to live.
-- Letter to Mrs William James, 1 April 1913

The war has used up words.
-- New York Times, 21 March 1915

Summer afternoon -- summer afternoon; to me those have always been two of the most beautiful words in the English language.
-- Quoted in Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance (1934), ch. 10, section 6


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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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