A Landscape Painter

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

A Landscape Painter first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly magazine for February 1866. Its initial appearance in book form was as part of the collection Stories Revived published in three volumes by Macmillan in London, 1885.

A Landscape Painter

New England seascape – Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

A Landscape Painter – plot summary

Rich bachelor Locksley has broken off his engagement to beautiful Josephine Leary upon discovering her mercenary nature. He dies at the age of thirty-five. His estate comes into the possession of Mrs M, and she presents the events described in the ‘last hundred’ pages of a diary he kept between the ages of twenty-five and thirty.

Following the split with his fiancée Locksley goes into seclusion and is pleased with his isolation at Newport, but feels he ought to explore his surroundings. He hires a boat, finds an island and, caught by the tide, has to be taken back by Captain Blunt, an old sailor. Blunt invites him to be a lodger in his home, subject to the approval of his daughter, who teaches music in a local school.

Esther Blunt turns out to be young, handsome, and intelligent. Locksley later changes his opinion of her and revises her age. Having decided to change his life and conceal his wealth, he feels that a simple rustic life will suit his purposes. He is aware that he is acting out the part of a ‘poor’ person, and he believes that the captain indulges in romantic fibs and sailors’ yarns. He writes in a self-congratulatory manner about his integration with the household.

On a Sunday, instead of going to church, Locksley flirts with Esther, who lectures him on being less egotistical and more sociable. The captain reveals that Esther was formerly engaged to John Banister, who failed to become rich and later left for China.

Esther helps nurse Locksley through a period illness, after which it is revealed that she has refused an offer of marriage from Mr Johnson. The captain, Esther, and Locksley go on a picnic to a local island, all of which Locksley describes in his diary as an impressionist painting.

When the captain is absent one night, Locksley proposes to Esther, and although teasing him the meanwhile, she accepts. He still maintains his pretense of being poor, but plans to reveal the truth after they are married.

But on honeymoon, when he gives her his diaries to read, she reveals that she has already read them whilst he was ill. She knows he is rich, and even points out that she doesn’t love him and has only married him for his money.

Principal characters
Mrs M. the outer narrator
Locksley a very rich bachelor, the diarist, a landscape painter (30)
‘Captain’ Richard Blunt an old sailor
Esther Blunt his daughter, a handsome talented woman (27)
Mr Johnson an admirer of Esther’s
John Bannister formerly engaged to Esther

Study resources

A Landscape Painter The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

A Landscape Painter The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

A Landscape Painter Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon UK

A Landscape Painter Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon US

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

A Landscape Painter Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

A Landscape Painter Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources

A Landscape Painter – critical commentary

The principal theme in this story is that of deceit. The Captain ‘deceives’ Locksley with his sailor’s yarns; Locksley deceives the Blunt family quite explicitly by pretending to be poor; and Esther deceives Locksley by pretending to be in love with him.

The instance of Esther’s deceit is all the more pointed because Locksley has gone into his seaside retreat following the discovery that his fiancée Josephine was marrying him for his money. So in the end he is doubly deceived by the outcome of his venture.

There is an interesting leitmotiv of Locksley’s poor health, though it does not seem to be linked to anything essential in the narrative as a whole. At the outset of the story Mrs M. mentions that ‘He [Locksley] was looking very poorly’. Then whilst living with the Blunts he falls ill. This gives Esther the chance to read his diaries. But following only a few years marriage to her, he dies at the age of only thirty-five.

It is interesting in such an early work by James (1886) that he should make use of a metafictional device – a story that reflects upon itself. It is also the first of his stories to use the device of the ‘framed’ narrative – a principal story which is introduced by a smaller, separate narrative.

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 Washington SquareWashington Square (1880) is a superb early short novel, It’s the tale of a young girl whose future happiness is being controlled by her strict authoritarian (but rather witty) father. She is rather reserved, but has a handsome young suitor. However, her father disapproves of him, seeing him as an opportunist and a fortune hunter. There is a battle of wills – all conducted within the confines of their elegant New York town house. Who wins out in the end? You will probably be surprised by the outcome. This is a masterpiece of social commentary, offering a sensitive picture of a young woman’s life.
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James Washington Square 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

© 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 Amazon.co.uk. 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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