JAMES, Henry (1843-1916)
Plaque erected in 1949 by London County Council at 34 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, London W8 5AQ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
HENRY JAMES 1843-1916 WRITER lived here 1886-1902
The Anglo-American writer Henry James is famous for his novels The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bowl, as well as the novella The Turn of the Screw. He lived at 34 De Vere Gardens in Kensington for over 10 years from 1886 until about 1898, ultimately giving up the lease in 1902.
CHANGE IN FORTUNES
He moved to number 34 in March 1886 from a small flat in Mayfair, the darkness and mean dimensions of which contrasted sharply with the recently built fourth-floor flat at De Vere Gardens, which was ‘like a photographer’s studio’. James’s domestic needs were attended to by a live-in servant couple, and the writer jokingly vowed to a friend to be as ‘bourgeoise as my means will permit, and have large fat sofas’.
To an aunt he proclaimed that ‘my new quarters work beautifully and haven't a flaw’, though with bachelor fastidiousness he complained of ‘some romping little wretches of children overhead’.
James nonetheless enjoyed a productive spell here. Among his successes were the novels The Reverberator (1888) and The Tragic Muse (1890) and, among other works for the stage, a dramatisation of his early novel The American (1877; stage version 1891). His 1895 short story ‘The Altar of the Dead’ tells of a man obsessed with the commemoration of those departed: James had been much affected by the loss of several close friends, including the actress Fanny Kemble and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.
From 1896 James based himself mostly in Rye, Sussex, where he settled permanently two years later. The London flat was sub-let, and James gave up the lease in 1902. It was at Rye that he produced perhaps his best-known works, including the sinister novella The Turn of the Screw (1898) and The Wings of the Dove (1902). James became a naturalised British citizen in 1915.