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The Art of the Novel

Critical Prefaces

With an Introduction by R. P. Blackmur and a new Foreword by Colm Tóibín

This collection of prefaces, originally written for the 1909 multi-volume New York Edition of Henry James’s fiction, first appeared in book form in 1934 with an introduction by poet and critic R. P. Blackmur. In his prefaces, James tackles the great problems of fiction writing—character, plot, point of view, inspiration—and explains how he came to write novels such as The Portrait of a Lady and The American. As Blackmur puts it, “criticism has never been more ambitious, nor more useful.”

The latest edition of this influential work includes a foreword by bestselling author Colm Tóibín, whose critically acclaimed novel The Master is told from the point of view of Henry James. As a guide not only to James’s inspiration and execution, but also to his frustrations and triumphs, this volume will be valuable both to students of James’s fiction and to aspiring writers.

400 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2011

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


“Taken as a whole, this collection of James’s prefaces constitutes the most profound manual of the art of fiction in the language.”


“In this volume all the Prefaces which Henry James wrote for the New York edition of his works have been brought under one cover. The result makes an indispensable item for every student or lover of Henry James and for all students of the novel, which James himself thought ‘the most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms.’”



“As the story of a story, each preface has its dramatic interest, and those who have not read the stories in the light of each preface have missed half the enjoyment to be got from them.”


Times Literary Supplement

"This is the chief importance of James’s prefaces: that they have made future novelists conscious; that the planned effect has been substituted for the lucky stroke. . . . But to the common reader they should have an almost equal value, for our enjoyment of a novel is increased when we can follow the method of the writer.”

Graham Greene | Spectator

Table of Contents

Foreword by Colm Tóibín
Introduction by Richard P. Blackmur
I. Preface to “Roderick Hudson”
II. Preface to “The American”
III. Preface to “The Portrait of a Lady”
IV. Preface to “The Princess Casamassima”
V. Preface to “The Tragic Muse”
VI. Preface to “The Awkward Age”
VII. Preface to “The Spoils of Poynton”
VIII. Preface to “What Maisie Knew”
IX. Preface to “The Aspern Papers”
X. Preface to “The Reverberator”
XI. Preface to “Lady Barbarina”
XII. Preface to “The Lesson of the Master”
XIII. Preface to “The Author of Beltraffio”
XIV. Preface to “The Altar of the Dead”
XV. Preface to “Daisy Miller”
XVI. Preface to “The Wings of the Dove”
XVII. Preface to “The Ambassadors”
XVIII. Preface to “The Golden Bowl”

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