Defining James’s Homosexuality



One evening around the turn of the nineteenth century, in the garden of Lamb House, Henry James revealed to Edmund Gosse what the latter assumed to be one of the novelist’s most intimate secrets. ‘As twilight deepened and we walked together/ Gosse was later to recall,

I suddenly found that in profuse and enigmatic language [James] was recounting for me an experience, something that had happened, not something repeated or imagined. He spoke of standing on a pavement of a city, in the dusk, and of gazing upwards across the misty street, watching, watching for the lighting of a lamp in the window on the third storey. And the lamp blazed out, and through bursting tears he strained to see what was behind it, the unapproachable face. And for hours he stood there, wet with the rain, brushed by the phantom hurrying figures of the scene, and never from behind the lamp for one moment was visible the face. The mysterious and poignant revelation closed, and one could make no comment, ask no question, being throttled oneself by an overpowering emotion. And for a long time Henry shuffled beside me in the darkness, shaking the dew off the laurels, and still there was no sound at all in the garden but what our heels made crunching the gravel, nor was the silence broken when suddenly we entered the house and he disappeared for an hour.1


Male Friendship Classical Context North American Literature Sexual Frustration Roman Ruin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Hugh Walpole, ‘Henry James: A Reminiscence’, Horizon, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1940), 76.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Theodora Bosanquet, Henry fames at Work (London: The Hogarth Press, 1924), 81.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Peter Ackroyd, 7.5. Eliot (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1984), 13.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ‘Shame and Performativity: Henry James’s New York Edition Prefaces’, in David McWhirter (ed.), Henry James’s New York Edition: The Construction of Authorship (Stanford and London: Stanford University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    For the definition of narcissistic homosexuality, see Sigmund Freud, The Standard Works of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1973–4), 24 Vols, Vol. 14, 297–8.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    John Carlos Rowe, The Other Henry fames (North Carolina, and London: Duke University Press, 1998), 223.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    For a critique of Freud’s attitude to homosexuality from a post-gay liberation perspective, see Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 196–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 161–2.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Jonathan Freedman, Professions of Taste: Henry fames, British Aestheticism, and Commodity Culture (Stanford and London: Stanford University Press, 1990), 275–6.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Richard Dellamora, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 45.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Forrest Reid, Peter Waring (London: Faber and Faber, 1937), 238.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Peter Swaab, ‘Hopkins and the Pushed Peach’, Critical Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Autumn 1995), 43–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 20.
    Of course, James is not alone in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in exploring homosexuality in his fiction and relating to it in his life in terms of an adolescent fixation. Alan Hollinghurst, ‘The Creative Uses of Homosexuality in the Novels of E.M. Forster, Ronald Firbank and L.P. Hartley’, unpublished M.Litt. thesis (Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1980), explores the way in which these three writers have a’ sense of determinism about the life of the emotions endorsed by [an] incessant exhausting repetition of the idee fixe of each psyche’, and remarks that in the ‘hands of a good artist such an idea can solidify into the structure of a work of art, or of a whole series of works of art’ (5). Reading Hollinghurst’s eloquent and incisive thesis was the initial inspiration for this study of James (a writer not discussed in detail by Hollinghurst). Other examples include A.E. Housman, about whom Hollinghurst has subsequently written in The Guardian (1 March 1996): ‘Housman’s poems gain force from the incessant backward glances they cast on youth from a later discontent. Housman thus appears adolescent and old before his time: a pattern not uncommon in very repressed personalities... [A] sense of the physical and emotional separation seems to have spurred Housman into writing poetry... and into creating his metaphorical world of sundered friendships, irreversible change and exile from a sense of happiness. Amorous and sexual emotions are clouded by regret and fear... The book aches and sighs with loneliness, with the sleepless solitary dusks and dawns of the depressive’s calendar.’ Valentine Cunningham, British Writers of the Thirties (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 148–53Google Scholar
  14. Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952]Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (London: Routledge, 1938), 271.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 28–9.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    John Addington Symonds, Male Love: A Problem in Greek Ethics and Other Writings (New York: Pagan Press, 1983), 96–7.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    For a discussion of the way in which James’s attitude to Whitman changed between his review of 1865 and his later comments on Whitman in 1898 see Eric Savoy, ‘Reading Gay America’, in Robert K. Martin (ed.), The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman: The Life after the Life (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992), 3–15.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), 36.Google Scholar
  20. 34.
    R.M. Seiler (ed.), Walter Pater: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980) 293.Google Scholar
  21. 36.
    William E. Buckler (ed.), Walter Pater: Three Major Texts (New York and London: New York University Press, 1986), 191.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    Phyllis Grosskurth, The Woeful Victorian: A Biography of John Addington Symonds (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1964), 257–61.Google Scholar
  23. 40.
    John Addington Symonds, Studies in the Greek Poets, 2nd Series (London: Smith, 1876), 146.Google Scholar
  24. 41.
    Adeline R. Tintner, The Pop World of Henry fames: From Fairy Tales to Science Fiction (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  25. 42.
    Quoted in F.O. Matthiessen, The fames Family: A Group Biography (New York: Knopf, 1961), 494–5.Google Scholar
  26. 45.
    For a discussion of the falling out between Reid and James, see the introduction by Colin Cruise to The Garden God (London: Brilliance Books, 1986), iv.Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    Forrest Reid, Private Road (London: Faber and Faber, 1940), 64–75.Google Scholar
  28. 50.
    Jonathan Fryer, Andre and Oscar: Gide, Wilde and the Art of Gay Living (London: Andre Deutsch, 1997)Google Scholar
  29. Stephen O. Murray, ‘Some Nineteenth-Century Reports of Islamic Homosexuality’, in Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (eds), Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History and Literature (New York and London: New York University Press, 1997), 204–21Google Scholar
  30. Robert Aldrich, The Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art and Homosexual Fantasy (London and New York: Routledge, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 51.
    Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands (London: Collins, 1959), 188.Google Scholar
  32. 52.
    Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fictions (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1986; repr. by Pandora, with corrections, 1994), 121.Google Scholar
  33. 53.
    Henry James, Italian Hours (London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909), 56.Google Scholar
  34. 54.
    Mrs Humphry Ward, A Writer’s Recollections (London: Macmillan, 1916), 328–9.Google Scholar
  35. 55.
    Leon Edel, Henry James: The Treacherous Years (Philadelphia: J.P. Lippincott, 1969), 297–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John R. Bradley 2000

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations