On this day in 1875, American writer Henry James publishes his first novel, Roderick Hudson. Earlier in the year, he had published Transatlantic Sketches, a book of travel essays, and a short-story collection titled A Passionate Pilgrim.
James, born in New York in 1843, was the second son of a wealthy and eccentric philosopher. His older brother William became the country’s first distinguished psychologist as well as an influential philosopher. The brothers and their younger siblings were taken abroad by their parents for four years to study European culture during their teens. The family roamed England, Switzerland, and France, visiting galleries, museums, theaters, and libraries.
A back injury exempted James from serving in the Civil War, and he briefly attended Harvard Law School. He began writing fiction in his teens and published his first story when he was 21. He soon became a regularly contributor of essays, reviews, and stories to Atlantic Monthly and other important periodicals. In 1873, James moved to England and continued publishing reviews while writing many more novels, including The American (1877) and the popular Daisy Miller (1878). In 1881, he published his masterpiece The Portrait of a Lady. Like many of his other works, it deals with naÝve, young Americans moving among sophisticated European circles. He wrote prolifically, nonfiction as well as fiction, and the prefaces to new editions of his novels have been collected in The Art of the Novel (1834).