Dresden 1860

Her father died when she was only two years old, and in 1859 her widowed mother took the family to Europe, where they lived in Dresden until 1861.
Helena's brother George, who died in the war, was of college age between '59 to '61 and as Dresden was one of the art meccas for Americans, he might have been studying painting there. Dresden was closed to women art students, there were no opportunities there for tutoring. (Fanny Osbourne, Robert Louis Stevenson's future wife, had tried there first before going to Paris.)

The family returned to the United States around the time of the birth of (Helena's older sister) Katherine's child, Edith. Katherine and her husband Arthur Bronson were living in Newport. Helena's mother took a house on Clay Street to be near the them. Helena was enrolled in a girl's boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut

Bailey's Beach, Newport by Childe Hassam 1901

The James family was also in Newport at the time, as were the Tweedy family. Three girls, cousins of Henry and William James and also cousins of the Tweedys were brought to Newport to live as wards of Mary Tweedy. Minny, the second oldest girl, became Helena's and Henry's close friend and attended the same girl's boarding school.

"In July 1862, Minny Temple, aged seventeen, went on holiday to Vermont, 'and then for Newport!' she promised her friend, Helena '-and for seeing you barefoot in Uncle Henry's breakfast room! - I have an old pair of boots and some stockings with holes in the toes, which I will have ready for you...' Helena, whose brother George had died that June in the Civil War, was drooping. It would be a consolation to parade their toes and tatters round the properly clothed propriety of the James table."

"[Minny] and her friend, Helena, were 'ínattentive and disobedient'. They complained of bigotry and narrowness in a teacher called Miss Fanny and in the school's clergyman.
Mrs. de Kay, Helena's mother, tried in vain to invoke 'Christian duty' and sympathy for Miss Fanny, who had to work for a living... 'We must forgive as we would forgive our enemies - they almost seem to be such to those whose views are truly liberal-'.
Mrs. de Kay...was astonished by Helena's reply, accusing her mother of taking the school's side.
It was the familiar struggle of girls who want to think for themselves. Helena and Minny developed a cult of friendship, and the school's head, Miss Margaret, confronted with such fervor, was unable to cope. She sent out two formal complaints: one to Mrs. de Kay; the other to Minny's uncle, Henry James Sr.
Assuming Minny, two years older, was behind this trouble, Mrs. de Kay issued a warning.
'You are doing a wrong and dangerous thing in allowing your fondness for Minnie to become an engrossing passion. Do not surrender your self your convictions of Truth - justice - piety & honour to any one - much less to a young and undeveloped perhaps mistaken person of your own age -'
But the two were closer than ever. Helena was in her own way as compelling as Minny...During school vacations, the proximity of Clay Street to Bellevue Avenue [where Minny lived] reinforced the bond formed at school.

Two little dents of concentration above Helena's dark eyes and the tender curves of her upper lip invited intimacy as she talked in a low voice. John La Farge [also part of the Newport group] who was to be her mentor as an artist, called her a 'good counsellor'. Mary Hallock Foote recalled how people 'said things to her with absolute recklessness'. Her coloring was warm: a crest of brown hair with a deep wave as it turned off her forehead and a soft, peachy cheek, set off by dark browns she tended to wear, with glints of gold or pale yellow and sometimes a flash of pure red.

This description of Helena's coloring, me thinks, has been influenced by a description of her in a letter by Mary Hallock Foote and Winslow Homer's general use of colors. (see MORE ROMANCE section article)

One of her appealing ways was to share a poem with a friend, half-sounding the words as though too deep for utterance - two voices murmuring 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments...' That shaded, beneath-the-surface quality was there in her drawing, which felt its way toward form, avoiding hard, precise lines. The opposite of cocksure, she lent herself to her subject as to people. Minny was 'a passion', Helena said in after years, '-lasting forever as my passions do I think - So was I to her...'

As Minny saw it, Helena gave her 'dear, motherly care'; as Mrs. de Kay saw it, Minny was stirring rebellion in a way that challenged the controlled passionlessness of good little women."

from "A Private Life of Henry James, Two Women and His Art" by Lyndall Gordon

The other folks hanging around at the time. John Gray tried to court Minny without much success. Holmes was Henry's buddy from Law School. William and Alice didn't really like Minny all that much.

Henry James was very taken by Minny and was close to her and inspired by her. There were long walks together around Newport. She had planned to follow him to Europe, before she became too sick to travel. His novel "Portrait of A Lady"was modeled on her personality. The last chapter of "Notes of a Son and Brother" is a tribute to her memory. "The Tragic Muse" is modeled on the deKay family. His novel "The Bostonians" describes Richard and Helena's summer retreat in Marion, Massachusetts.

By 1868, the friendship between Helena and Minny had cooled. Minny had developed TB and was living with and being taken care of by her older sister, Kitty, and her husband. Helena was studying art in New York. "...Someone came between us," Helena said, "and it seemed to me as if death were better." She felt Kitty was trying to keep them apart. Minny died in 1870 in her mid-twenties.