tutorial, commentary, study resources, plot, and web links

Brooksmith first appeared in Harper’s Weekly and Black and White in May 1891 – a sure sign that Henry James was attentive to the commercial opportunities of simultaneous publication – getting paid for the same story twice over.

James has always been known as a writer of refined sensibility, with a prose style renowned for its demanding complexities and subtelties of meaning; but it is often forgotten that he was a full-time writer who made a considerable part of his income from professional contracts with publishers. Despite the aesthetic demands he sometimes made of his readers, he had one eye closely on the literary marketplace.


Brooksmith – critical commentary

Brooksmith is not much more than a light character sketch, but it is composed in a delicately constructed arc – of the narrator’s appreciation of Brooksmith’s position in society. It starts from the narrator’s realization that Offord’s salon owes its success to Brooksmith’s sensitive ministrations. Brooksmith has become sufficiently attuned to Offord’s sophisticated culture that he is able to anticipate his needs.

Then as Offord himself declines the narrator becomes even more appreciative of Brooksmith as they form a complicit understanding of their relative positions. The narrator also begins to worry about Brooksmith’s future prospects. He realises it will be almost impossible to locate employment offering such a cultivated milieu.

The arc reaches its peak on the death of Offord, and from that point onwards Brooksmith begins his slow decline. He goes from one lower status position to another, at each step sliding down the social scale, until he disappears from society altogether. The narrator’s conclusion (which seems somewhat callous) is that ‘he had indeed been spoiled’.

Brooksmith – study resources

Brooksmith The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

Brooksmith The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

Brooksmith Complete Stories 1884—1891 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Brooksmith Complete Stories 1884—1891 – Library of America – Amazon US

Brooksmith The Complete Tales of Henry James – Volume 8 – Digireads reprint – UK

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Brooksmith Brooksmith – eBook formats at Project Gutenberg

Brooksmith – plot summary

An anonymous narrator reflects on the successful salon maintained by his friend Oliver Offord, a retired diplomat. He wonders how the success is created and concludes that it is the subtle and tactful influence of Offord’s butler, Brooksmith.

When Offord falls ill and receives fewer visitors, the narrator begins to worry what will become of Brooksmith, who is so much a part of the establishment. When Offord dies, Brooksmith is left eighty pounds, but his employment and role disappear.

The narrator encounters Brooksmith amongst the staff at various other houses, and always feels a sympathetic sadness thatBrooksmith is working at a level which demeans his true value. Brooksmith eventually falls ill, but the narrator is still unable to help him.

Brooksmith gradually falls down the social order of the servant class and is last encountered as a casual waiter-on at a society dinner. No more is heard of him until a poor relative visits the narrator to report that Brooksmith has simply disappeared, and is presumed dead.

Principal characters
I the anonymous narrator
Oliver Offord a bachelor and retired diplomat
Brooksmith his butler and intimate friend (35)

Henry James - the author of Brooksmith

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant

Henry James's study

Henry James’s study

Further reading


Red button Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Red button F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.

Red button Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.

Red button Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.

Red button Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.

Red button Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

Red button F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Critical commentary

Red button Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.

Red button Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.

Red button Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Red button Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.

Red button Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.

Red button Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.

Red button Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Red button Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009

Red button John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Red button Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Red button Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.

Other works by Henry James

Henry James The Aspern PapersThe Aspern Papers (1888) is a psychological drama set in Venice which centres on the tussle for control of a great writer’s correspondence. An elderly lady, ex-lover of the writer, seeks a husband for her daughter. But the potential purchaser of the papers is a dedicated bachelor. Money is also at stake – but of course not discussed overtly. There is a refined battle of wills between them. Who will win in the end? As usual, James keeps the reader guessing. The novella is a masterpiece of subtle narration, with an ironic twist in its outcome. This collection of stories also includes three of his accomplished long short stories – The Private Life, The Middle Years, and The Death of the Lion.
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon US


Henry James The Spoils of PoyntonThe Spoils of Poynton (1896) is a short novel which centres on the contents of a country house, and the question of who is the most desirable person to inherit it via marriage. The owner Mrs Gereth is being forced to leave her home to make way for her son and his greedy and uncultured fiancee. Mrs Gereth develops a subtle plan to take as many of the house’s priceless furnishings with her as possible. But things do not go quite according to plan. There are some very witty social ironies, and a contest of wills which matches nouveau-riche greed against high principles. There’s also a spectacular finale in which nobody wins out.
Henry James The Spoils of Poynton Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Spoils of Poynton Buy the book from Amazon US


Henry James Daisy MillerDaisy Miller (1879) is a key story from James’s early phase in which a spirited young American woman travels to Europe with her wealthy but commonplace mother. Daisy’s innocence and her audacity challenge social conventions, and she seems to be compromising her reputation by her independent behaviour. But when she later dies in Rome the reader is invited to see the outcome as a powerful sense of a great lost potential. This novella is a great study in understatement and symbolic power.
Daisy Miller Buy the book from Amazon UK
Daisy Miller Buy the book from Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2013

Henry James – web links

Henry James  web links Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.

Henry James web links The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.

Henry James web links The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

Red button A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.

Henry James web links The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.

Henry James web links Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.

Henry James web links Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.

Henry James web links The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Henry James web links The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.

Henry James web links Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.

Henry James web links Henry James on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of James’s novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production features, film reviews, box office, and even quizzes.

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