The Visits

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

The Visits first appeared in Black and White weekly magazine in May 1892 It next appeared in the collection of tales The Private Life published in London by Osgood McIllvaine in 1893.

The Visits

The Visits – critical commentary

On the face of it this tale is hardly more than a sketch or an anecdote. An elderly woman recounts her meetings with a young girl who is upset because she has revealed her feelings to a handsome young man, and dies of ‘shame’ as a result.

At his excellent web site The Ladder Adrian Dover claims that Henry James is here dealing with an issue which simply cannot be made explicit – because of the prudish nature of nineteenth century society at that period.

In fact so prudish was society that this tale, destined to appear in one of its periodicals, has to be reticent about the facts to the point almost of incomprehensibility. Fear not, as so often in James, the point, or one, at least, of the points, lies in what cannot be named. Louisa Chantry cannot speak of it, Henry James cannot speak of it – even his (surviving) notebooks are silent.

Unfortunately, this argument is undermined somewhat by the fact that Dover himself is unable to say what it is, whilst claiming that it is ‘central to the tale’.

The fact is that Louisa Chantry has only just met the poor (but handsome) nephew Jack Brandon, and has obviously been smitten by him. The narrator and Brandon are both aware of a ‘fever in her blood’ when they are dining at the house. She subsequently reveals her feelings to him openly, in defiance of the protocol that a young woman should not do so to a man.

In fact that seems to be the only possible unspoken feature here – that Louisa Chantry has possibly been sexually aroused by Jack Brandon, and feels overwhelmed by the emotions stirred in her. She says “I said strange things to him”.

It should be remembered that in the nineteenth century it was quite commonly believed that women were incapable of being sexually aroused, as such feelings were regarded as unwomanly and degrading. This might explain the profound sense of shame that Louisa feels. James was certainly a master of concealment, restraint, and understatement, but it does not seem altogether convincing that this was the subject he was trying to suggest here – in which case the mystery remains unresolved.


This is yet another of James’s tales which is delivered by an outer-narrator relaying the account of events provided by an inner-narrator. And as is very often the case, the outer-narrator makes no further appearance or intervention after introducing the story. The outer-narrator has heard the story from the inner-narrator and has (slightly improbably) taken notes.

The tale occurs only a few years before James used the most elaborately complicated occurrence of the same narrative strategy for The Turn of the Screw (1898). In that tale there is both an inner and an outer-narrator, and the tale has been hand written by one of the characters (the governess) then given to one of the narrators, who makes a copy of it – which is then read out to an assembled company..

The Visits – study resources

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

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

The Visits Complete Stories 1892—1898 – Library of America – Amazon UK

The Visits Complete Stories 1892—1898 – Library of America – Amazon US

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Red button Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

Red button Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources

The Visits – plot summary

An un-named elderly woman recollects visiting a house in the West Country where she meets Louisa Chantry, the daughter of a woman friend she is about to stay with. Louisa is full of mysterious anxiety, possibly to do with a Jack Brandon, a handsome young man who is the host’s nephew.

The narrator comes across Louisa in the garden, very distraught. Before leaving, Louisa begs the narrator not to tell her mother she has been upset.

The narrator goes on to visit Chantry Court, where Louisa is still upset. She tells the narrator that she is going to die. The girl tells her mother that she has done something bad, but will not reveal what it is. The girl falls ill, and a doctor reveals that she has a weak heart. Subsequent specialists are unable to diagnose anything specific.

Louisa eventually reveals to the narrator that at a recent house party she had revealed her feelings to Jack Brandon, who had acted in a gentlemanly manner towards her, though rejecting her advances. Shortly after making this revelation, she dies.

Principal characters
I the un-named female outer narrator
I the un-named inner-narrator, an elderly woman
Mr Christopher Chantry a country gentleman
Mrs Helen Chantry his wife, friend of the narrator
Louisa Chantry their pretty young daughter
Jack Brandon a handsome and poor young man

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 Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.

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 J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.

Red button Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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

Red button Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

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

Red button Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976

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 Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.

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

Red button Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

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 Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Red button Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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

Other works by Henry James

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


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 AmbassadorsThe Ambassadors (1903) Lambert Strether is sent from America to Paris to recall Chadwick Newsome, a young man who is reported to be compromising himself by an entanglement with a wicked woman. However, Strether’s mission fails when he is seduced by the social pleasures of the European capital, and he takes Newsome’s side. So a second ambassador is dispatched in the form of the more determined Sarah Pocock. She delivers an ultimatum which is resisted by the two young men, but then an accident reveals unpleasant truths to Strether, who is faced by a test of loyalty between old Europe and the new USA. This edition presents the latest scholarship on James and includes an introduction, notes, selected criticism, a text summary and a chronology of James’s life and times.
The Ambassadors Buy the book at Amazon UK
The Ambassadors Buy the book at Amazon US

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.

© Roy Johnson 2013

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