Historic Northampton

Historic Highlights

Henry James

Henry James portrait by by Katherine Elizabeth McClellan

In Henry James' first novel, Roderick Hudson (1875), James describes his heroine as having three misfortunes: "first, she had lost her husband; second, she had lost her money,...; and third, she lived at Northampton, Massachusetts." Years later, James took pains to explain his meaning. Northampton, for James, was a metaphor for American society and culture - a "humane" community, but a "vivid antithesis to a state of civilization providing for 'art' ".

In 1905, after literary success abroad, James returned to the region, visiting Edith Wharton and lecturing in Northampton. His opinions of America had softened somewhat.

After all, despite his youthful disavowal, it was in Northampton that Henry James first began to take himself seriously as a writer. During a prolonged stay at the Round Hill Hotel throughout the fall of 1864, the 21-year-old James began to scratch out his first essays and to plot the beginnings of a literary career. Living here made a lasting mark on his work, as it has for many others who began to find their voice in this place.

The above photograph is one of a series of portraits taken by Katherine Elizabeth McClellan at her State Street Studio in Northampton in 1905.