Henry was a passive child who preferred to withdraw into his imagination or books. But this was in part an accommodation to the overpowering presence of his older brother, William, who "played the active, masculine role to Henry's passive, feminine role--the devil of the house in comparison to the angel of the house," Kaplan contends. In his novels he would tend to identify with the problems of his independent-minded heroines, while his male protagonists tended to be sensitive aesthetes.
His unresolved sexuality left him terrified of an intimate relationship with a woman and precluded him from marriage. Similarly, in his middle years, when he developed "crushes" on handsome young men, he remained fastidiously celibate. This burdened him with a crushing loneliness even as he compulsively fluttered about London society, and contributed to Lambert Strether's famous cri de coeur in "The Ambassador": "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to."
Kaplan concludes that James' fears of his homoerotic desires blighted the possibility of heterosexual relationships for him: "His most effective defense against the potentially frightening, perhaps disabling, confrontation with homoerotic desire (was) the renunciation of physical sexual relationships entirely."
James "projected into fictional characters the conflicts and tenuous resolutions that had been his since childhood." In "The Beast in the Jungle," a man lives in overpowering dread of some nameless menace, and one day realizes that his fear prevented him from marrying the woman who loved him--and from having lived.