From an eminent family, James' father was a follower of Swedenborg and a writer on theological questions. His brother William was one of America's most distinguished philosophers. James was educated in New York, Paris, London and Geneva. He attended Harvard Law School, but never practised law. He wrote his first story when he was 21 and published numerous articles in American magazines during the years 1865 to 1875. In 1875 he moved to England and spent the remainder of his life there and became a naturalized citizen. His first important novel was Roderick Hudson, which appeared serially in the Atlantic Monthly in 1875 and was published in book form in 1876. His early novels are concerned mainly with the impact of European society on American lifestyle and include The American (1877), Daisy Miller (1879), and, perhaps his greatest work, Portrait of a Lady (1881). James addressed social reform in such novels as The Bostonians (1886) and The Princess Casamassima (1886). He returned to his earlier theme in such novels as The Wings of a Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in illustrating the contrasts of American and European society.
James wrote hundreds of short stories, including the excellent ghost story The Turn of the Screw (1898), travel sketches, essays, a number of plays, biographies and other works. Some of his other well-known novels include Washington Square (1881), The Siege of London (1883), The Aspern Papers (1888), In The Cage (1898) and The Two Magics (1898).