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A Good Place To Start

The Portrait of a Lady 3
The Golden Bowl 1
The Aspern Papers 1
Daisy Miller 1
In the Cage 1

A Bad Place To Start

The Wings of the Dove 2
The Golden Bowl 1
The Ambassadors 1


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Categorization is odious. There is tremendous overlap among genres. These pigeonholes are offered only as a convenience.

Henry James

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Please consider recommending where to begin reading this author, or where not to. A few words about your experiences reading this author and why you make the recommendations you do will be helpful to other users. If you are the author or have studied this author extensively, please say so.

ceylonbreakfast January 31st, 2006 11:11 AM PST

A rule of thumb with James is that, the later the novel, the more psychological, abstract, and long the prose. For ease of reading, go for earlier works like Daisy Miller. On the other hand, for full-bore Jamesian brilliance, read later works like The Golden Bowl. Bear in mind that James revised his corpus for the New York Edition around 1908, and in many cases the changes were substantial. The Norton Critical Edition of The Portrait of a Lady, which is early, for instance, uses the 1908 edition. So in that edition you have early James as revised by late James.

dropo59 February 2nd, 2006 03:09 PM PST

I'd start with The Aspern Papers as perhaps the strongest and most interesting pure story that James wrote. Because it's such a good pure story, it's not entirely typical of James. Or rather, some of his great stories (like The Beast in the Jungle) are works with great dramatic tension that turn out to have nothing at the center -- like a lot of drama in everyday life, if you think about it. The Aspern Papers has a definite object and people clash over the object; it's a great story.

Hesperus Press March 16th, 2007 05:53 AM PST

James's later works, famed for their psychological complexity, need not be overwhelming or impenetrable. 'In the Cage', a novella dating from 1898, is as thoroughly 'Jamesian' a work as can be found, and yet its brevity (it is only a little more than 100 pages in length), renders it an altogether less daunting read than his longer works.

joecowley May 28th, 2007 09:18 PM PST

Let me say, to start off, that I disagree with Cynthia Ozick, who has called his later two novels, The Awkward Age and The Golden Bowl, his greatest work. I don't think so. His earlier work is what I truly like. And they're short, the way his books should be. They say he got prolix in his older age when he learned to dictate his material and then have it transcribed. He loves to beat the bushes around and around a subject. Virginia Woolf, in one of her letters, tells of an accounter with James and does a take-off on his style of not being able to get to the point without going round and round. The Gold Bowl runs to something over 400 pages in the edition I read; I could have cut it down to about 150 pages without losing anything. I dislike it when a writer forces me to edit his books if I am to enjoy them. Two other writers who are too prolix for my tastes are the later work of John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. Like many authors who are prolific, they tend to have what we used to call, when I was younger, diahrhea of the typewriter. The early James, however, is superb, and one of his shorter novels, not to exclude others (see how I'm imitating James), is certainly The Turn of the Screw. One of his strengths lies in indirection and not being explicit, which makes the reader bring his or her own imagination to bear. I like that, and wish I could do it. Joseph Cowley


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