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The Author of Beltraffio   By: (1843-1916)

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The Author of Beltraffio by Henry James is a thought-provoking and introspective novella that delves into the complexities of art, religion, and the human condition. Set in late 19th-century Europe, it revolves around the lives of a renowned writer, Mark Ambient, and his wife, Christina.

From the very beginning, James mesmerizes readers with his impeccable writing style and his ability to portray the intricate nuances of his characters' emotions. The narrative is driven by the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a young American who becomes acquainted with the Ambients while traveling in Europe. Through the narrator’s vivid observations, we gain insight into the fascinating intellectual and artistic world that the Ambients inhabit.

The central conflict in the story arises when Christina's devoutly religious cousin, Edgar, criticizes Mark’s work, particularly his novel, “Beltraffio.” Edgar's theological objections to Mark's writing highlight the clash between art and religion, and their potential to challenge and offend one another. James brilliantly examines this dichotomy, gently questioning the boundaries between artistic expression and religious beliefs.

As the novella progresses, it becomes evident that the characters themselves are complex and multi-dimensional. Mark is portrayed as a self-absorbed artist who is more concerned with perfecting his craft than with personal relationships. Christina, on the other hand, is torn between her loyalty to her husband and her growing affinity for her cousin's religious convictions. James expertly captures the emotional turmoil experienced by both characters, causing readers to empathize with the various internal struggles they face.

One of the book's notable strengths is its exploration of the influence of art on individuals and the society at large. James raises profound questions about the repercussions of creating controversial art and the responsibility of artists towards their audience. Is it the artist's duty to challenge societal norms, even if it means causing offense or alienation? These themes are masterfully woven into the fabric of the story, leaving readers to reflect upon the power of art and its impact on society.

The Author of Beltraffio is a captivating and intellectually stimulating read. Henry James expertly navigates the intricate web of relationships and moral dilemmas, showcasing his profound understanding of human nature. The novella leaves readers pondering the blurred boundaries between art, religion, and morality long after they turn the final page. Henry James's exceptional prose, combined with the depth of his characters and the exploration of weighty philosophical themes, make The Author of Beltraffio a must-read for any lover of classic literature.

First Page:

This etext was scanned from the 1922 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email Proofing by Chris Jelley, Micky McClure and David.


by Henry James


Much as I wished to see him I had kept my letter of introduction three weeks in my pocket book. I was nervous and timid about meeting him conscious of youth and ignorance, convinced that he was tormented by strangers, and especially by my country people, and not exempt from the suspicion that he had the irritability as well as the dignity of genius. Moreover, the pleasure, if it should occur for I could scarcely believe it was near at hand would be so great that I wished to think of it in advance, to feel it there against my breast, not to mix it with satisfactions more superficial and usual. In the little game of new sensations that I was playing with my ingenuous mind I wished to keep my visit to the author of "Beltraffio" as a trump card. It was three years after the publication of that fascinating work, which I had read over five times and which now, with my riper judgement, I admire on the whole as much as ever. This will give you about the date of my first visit of any duration to England for you will not have forgotten the commotion, I may even say the scandal, produced by Mark Ambient's masterpiece... Continue reading book >>

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