Henry James: a brief introduction

Not sure which of Henry James's works to pick up first? Let our brief introduction to 'the Master' give you some pointers. 

Born on the 15th of April 1843, 2018 marked the 175th anniversary of the birth of legendary writer Henry James. Nominated for the Nobel Prize three times and known by contemporary fellow novelists as ‘the Master’, approaching a writer of this calibre for the first time is daunting. There are countless novels, novellas and plays to choose from but which is the best to start with? Here are our top picks of the books by Henry James to start reading first.

The Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James

Book cover for The Portrait of a Lady

An intense exploration of freedom and identity, this novel is largely regarded as Henry James's great masterpiece. The protagonist, Isabel Archer, is an intelligent, beautiful, strong woman who fascinates the elite society of New York - but how far can she protect her independence against unwanted suitors?

The Turn of the Screw and Owen Wingrave

by Henry James

Book cover for The Turn of the Screw and Owen Wingrave

Two orphans and their governess are under threat from two of sinister figures in The Turn of the Screw, one the most famous ghost novels ever written. Owen Wingrave is a son from a long line of military heroes, but what if he strays from the ghosts of his past? These two short and eerie novellas are published together in a single volume with a new afterword by bestselling author, Kate Mosse.

The Ambassadors

Book cover for The Ambassadors

One of Henry James’s later masterpieces is this dark comedy about Lewis Lambert Strether, a man following his heart to Paris in order to rescue his fiancee’s son, Chad. The charm of Parisian culture has transformed Chad, will Lewis succumb to the allure?

The Wings of the Dove

Book cover for The Wings of the Dove

Kate and Merton are desperately in love but have no money to marry, whilst wealthy New York socialite Milly is also in love but has a fatal illness. Henry James delves into doomed passions and human resilience in this brooding New York novel.