American authorsClassics Club

Classics Spin lands on Henry James

The latest spin challenge by the Classics Club landed on number 13 which means I have ended up with Washington Square & Daisy Miller by Henry James.

HenryJamesThis is not exactly welcome news since my last – actually my only – experience with him wasn’t a huge success. I read Portrait of a Lady for a literature course I took about three years ago. It was so S..L..O..W. We had about two pages in which the central character seemed to do nothing other than stand in a doorway and look onto a group of people in a garden. I think there may have been some action in the form of the opening of an umbrella but then, maybe that was just wishful thinking.

To be fair, I read it a second time and warmed to it rather more though I wouldn’t race to do another read. Another person taking the same course raved about James and kept insisting that I should give him another chance. She recommended The Ambassadors as the best example of his later works but I didn’t think I was up to a full blown novel right away so I opted for the novellas Washington Square and Daisy Miller.  

Washington Square, based on a true story, was published originally in 1880 as a serial in Cornhill Magazine and Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. It’s described as a structurally simple tragicomedy about the conflict between a dull but sweet daughter and her brilliant, unemotional father.

Daisy Miller dates from 1878 and it portrays the courtship of a beautiful American girl called Daisy Miller by Winterbourne, a sophisticated compatriot of hers. His pursuit of her is hampered by her own flirtatiousness, which is frowned upon by the other expatriates when they meet in Switzerland and Italy.

I’ll either become a fan of James by reading these or will have my feeling confirmed that he’s just not my kind of thing.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

7 thoughts on “Classics Spin lands on Henry James

  • Pingback: 50 Questions about Reading the Classics: Part 1 | BookerTalk

  • I loved Henry James when I took a course in graduate school. Following that, I read just about every James novel and a very long biography. I’m not sure how I would have fared reading him without the wonderful professor I studied under. But I will say, with each book, I liked him more, because I think I learned how to read him. A tiny novella I loved and del was quintessential James was titled “The Beast in the Jungle,” about a man to whom nothing happens. Also loved The Golden Bowl.

    • I have not heard of those titles Barbara. It seems James is one of those novelists that really divides opinion.

  • Thanks for the insight Guy. I shall start with Washington Square in that case.

  • I’m a James fan, and loved P O A L. You might find that you like Washington Square (catch The Heiress w/Olivia de Havilland if you can). Washington Square is a very subtly nuanced (short) novel and it may intrigue in ways POAL didn’t.

  • I hope you do end up enjoying your choice. I got Shirley by Charlotte Bronte…I am a little daunted 🙂


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