The Best Henry James Stories Everyone Should Read

Are these Henry James’s best short stories and novellas?

Henry James (1843-1916) was a prolific writer of short stories and novellas – what he himself called ‘tales’ – and a number of them are widely read and studied. In this post, we’ve picked just five of James’s very best tales, and said a little bit about them.

The Beast in the Jungle’. In this longer tale from 1903 – it’s so long it is sometimes categorised as a ‘novella’ – Henry James uses his interest in delay (enacted so well by his meandering and clause-ridden syntax) to explore a friendship between a man and a woman which never turns into a romantic relationship because the man, John Marcher, fears that something terrible is going to befall him. His stalwart and patient female companion, May, stands by his side and tries to help him make sense of this mysterious and imprecise threat which he feels hangs over him. Will this ‘beast’ lurking in the jungle of his unconscious ever be unleashed? Perhaps James’s finest example of a subversion of the traditional love story.

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A Summary and Analysis of Henry James’s ‘The Figure in the Carpet’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘The Figure in the Carpet’ has become a short-hand or idiom for the ‘key’ to understanding a writer’s work. And yet the story in which the idiom was born, Henry James’s 1896 tale ‘The Figure in the Carpet’, refuses to open itself up to easy interpretations or analysis. Neither we nor Henry James’s narrator learn the secret, the ‘figure in the carpet’. So what is this ambiguous story saying? You can read James’s story here.

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Five Fascinating Facts about Henry James

By Viola van de Sandt 1. He had no regrets. In a letter to fellow novelist Hugh Walpole, James wrote in 1913: ‘We must know, as much as possible, in our beautiful art . . . what we are talking about – &  the only way to know it is to have lived & loved … Read more