The U.S. Postal Service is honouring Henry James (1843–1916), a towering figure in U.S. literature, with a non-denominated three-ounce-rate stamp.
The stamp, issued July 31 and priced at 89 cents, is the 31st entry in the Literary Arts stamp series.
James’ writings often explored the complex interplay between U.S. citizens and Europeans, and he portrayed the intricacies of society and the inner lives of his characters with exquisite realism. These are among many intellectual and artistic achievements that earned him a reputation as one of the greatest American writers of all time.
The stamp features an original painting by artist Kate Sammons, of Los Angeles, Calif., under the art direction of Antonio Alcalá, of Alexandria, Virg. On the left side is a portrait of James based on a 1906 photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn. It shows the author in profile looking to the right, his left hand on his chin in a gesture of contemplation.
On the right side, behind James, is a vignette showing a man and a woman in a small boat; the man holds an oar, while the woman shades herself with a pink parasol. This vignette is an artistic interpretation of the climactic scene from The Ambassadors, James’s 1903 novel in which a middle-aged American is sent by his wealthy fiancée to Europe, presumably to rescue her son from a woman she believes must be bad for him—the two people represented in the boat.
Although James was born in New York City, he traveled extensively and resided in several places throughout Europe, giving his writing a distinctive international flavour. What’s more, James’s literary output was prodigious, including 20 complete novels, more than 100 shorter pieces of fiction, several plays and hundreds of shorter works and articles, including travel observations, literary criticism and theatre reviews. Two of his most well-known stories include Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw. His other works included The American, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Wings of the Dove and The Art of Fiction, among many others.
During James’s lifetime, readers were often drawn to his novels and short stories for their accounts of passionate friendships, love affairs, and marriages that were unhappy and rife with conflict. His contemporaries also admired his realistic and thoughtful portrayals of women, especially strong, autonomous heroines failed by men and betrayed by other women. His eye for human nature has stood the test of time; interest in his work surged in the 1930s and continues to this day. His novels and stories have inspired numerous stage and radio adaptations, followed more recently by major television versions and Hollywood films, confirming that our distance from the bygone cosmopolitan society he described makes the human conflicts he explored no less relevant, illuminating and engaging.
On the new stamp, the words “THREE OUNCE” indicate its usage value. Like a U.S. Forever stamp, the James stamp will always be valid for the rate printed on it.