Happy Birthday, Henry James!

Henry James, a nineteenth-century behemoth in literary realism, published What Maisie Knew in 1897. This coming-of-age narrative, which follows a sensitive daughter and her divorced, frivolous parents, is an unflinching account of a dysfunctional family. Its pages plunge the depths of childhood guilt, fear, and growth. With astonishing precision and candor, James inhabits the consciousness of his eponymous heroine—from her earliest glimmerings of awareness to her final, comprehensive worldview.

What Maisie Knew first appeared as a serial in The Chap-Book, a turn-of-the-century American literary magazine. (The text was later abridged, revised, and printed in book form.) Pictured here is a letter in James's hand. Dated September 15, 1897, it acknowledges receipt of payment for the novel's serial rights. To the left of the letter is the bookplate of Herbert S. Stone, Jr., son of Chicago-based publisher Herbert S. Stone and grandson of Melville E. Stone, who founded the Chicago Daily News.

The works of Henry James continue to be relevant. Portrait of a Novel, an enlightening biography by Michael Gorra, was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist. And a movie adaptation of What Maisie Knew, staring Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgård, will hit theaters this spring.