Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Literary Timeline Six Novel Ideas My Favorite Novel Elements of the Novel Top Novel Lists About the Program
Navigate through 200 years of the American Novel using scrollable tools and pulldown menus.
Use these pulldown menus to read more about novels, authors & movements.
The American
The American
THE AMERICAN, by Henry James
THE AMERICAN was Henry James's third published novel. After serialization in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY beginning in 1876, it was released in book form the following year. As in much of the author's writing, the cultural clash between Old World and New is of primary concern. Christopher Newman, a Civil War veteran and achiever of an early fortune in both speculation and industry, has decided next to conquer Europe in the cause of his cultural betterment. From a divan at the Louvre, Christopher sets out on his voyage of aesthetic progress only to run aground on the shoals of romance: his frustrated courtship of the lovely Claire de Cintre, daughter of the aristocratic Bellegardes, commands much of the story. Duels are fought, sinister secrets revealed, incriminating documents consigned to the fire. Belying James's reputation for gravity, well earned by some of his later works, THE AMERICAN is a very funny novel, with jokes cracking from its opening lines. Though full of melodramatic incident, if THE AMERICAN must be defined by a particular literary genre, it would be the comedy of manners. Given James's title and his protagonist's suggestive last name, it comes as no surprise that these manners are often rather bad. In the end, the author's naughtiest joke is that the only sort of person more regrettable than an American is a European.

Previous | Next

The American Novel