Selected Fiction / Henry James

The stories and a short novel included in this collection are drawn from three decades of Henry James’ writing. Its first story was published in 1879 when he was thirty-six; the last is from 1909, when he was sixty-six. Arranged chronologically, the pieces trace the author’s growth as a writer. All of James’ typical themes are included here, including a ghostly tale written late in his career. A good many of them have a European setting, but others take place in Boston or New York City.

This collection opens with two well-know pieces, Daisy Miller (1879) and Washington Square (1881). It is understandable why these two stories helped to launch James’ career as a successful writer. Each is well-written and accessible to the general reader. Moving deeper into the book, the stories start to challenge, complexity-wise. Rather than being action-based, they begin to focus more on the psychological inner motivations of the characters portrayed.

For me, the story that stood out from the rest was The Beast In The Jungle (1903). Its protagonist, John Marcher, has a secret that he has shared with only one other person: he believes his life will be defined by some catastrophic or marvelous event. When the event does take place late in life, he is blind to the fact. When he realizes what the defining event was, it is far too late to seize the opportunity. In the end, the “beast in the jungle” is himself; having spent so much time in anticipation, he’s not truly lived at all.

For a reader who wants to be introduced to James’ writing, Selected Fiction makes a perfect introduction. However, be aware that while the stories included are not book length, they are by no means short. Reading Henry James requires time and persistence.

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