Thursday, August 4, 2016

Literary Arts Series: Henry James

The U.S. Postal Service honors Henry James (1843–1916), a towering figure in American literature, with a non-denominated three-ounce-rate stamp. The stamp, priced at 89 cents, is the 31st entry in the Literary Arts stamp series .

In novels and stories that often explored the complex interplay between Americans and Europeans, James sought to portray the intricacies of society and the inner lives of his characters with exquisite realism, an intellectual and artistic achievement that earned him a reputation as one of the greatest writers the United States has ever produced.
The stamp features an original painting by artist
Kate Sammons of Los Angeles under the art direction of Antonio Alcalá of Alexandria, VA. On the left is a portrait of James based on a 1906 photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn. It shows the author in profile looking to the right, his left hand on his chin in a gesture of contemplation.
On the right side, behind James, is a vignette showing a man and a woman in a small boat; the man holds an oar, while the woman shades herself with a pink parasol. This vignette is an artistic interpretation of the climactic scene from The Ambassadors, James's 1903 novel in which a middle-aged American is sent by his wealthy fiancée to Europe, presumably to rescue her son from a woman she believes must be bad for him – the two people represented in the boat.
Even though James was born in New York City, he traveled extensively and resided in a number of different places in Europe, giving his writing a distinctive international flavor. James's literary output was prodigious: 20 complete novels, more than 100 shorter pieces of fiction, several plays and hundreds of shorter works and articles, including travel observations, literary criticism and theater reviews. Two of his most well-known stories include Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw. His other works included The American, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Wings of the Dove and The Art of Fiction, among many others.
During James's lifetime, readers were often drawn to his novels and short stories for their accounts of passionate friendships, love affairs, and marriages that were unhappy and rife with conflict. His contemporaries also admired his realistic and thoughtful portrayals of women, especially strong, autonomous heroines failed by men and betrayed by other women. His eye for human nature has stood the test of time; interest in his work surged in the 1930s and continues to this day. His novels and stories have inspired numerous stage and radio adaptations, followed more recently by major television versions and Hollywood films, confirming that our distance from the bygone cosmopolitan society he described makes the human conflicts he explored no less relevant, illuminating and engaging.  

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