Read Alice James by Jean Strouse Online


Alice James was the sister of William and Henry, the only daughter in a family of brilliant and not a little eccentric men, and representative of the intellectually repressed nineteenth-century woman whose grief finds an outlet in neurotic illness. She kept a withering journal of her life, wrote letters, and left behind a trail needing only modern signposts. She was an in Alice James was the sister of William and Henry, the only daughter in a family of brilliant and not a little eccentric men, and representative of the intellectually repressed nineteenth-century woman whose grief finds an outlet in neurotic illness. She kept a withering journal of her life, wrote letters, and left behind a trail needing only modern signposts. She was an integral part of a family firm of scholars and writers. But she could never seize the opportunities that a few other women of her age did. There was no air to breathe in the intoxicating atmosphere where Henry was already writing spellbinding novels and William was professing at Harvard and reinventing psychology and philosophy. Her life, then, is a singular portrait embedded in a family history that dazzled her age and still interests ours. ...

Title : Alice James
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780395277874
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 367 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Alice James Reviews

  • Aubrey
    2019-02-20 19:25

    He did not claim that “woman” was incapable of learning and wisdom, but that they did not “become” her: as man’s spiritual superior, she should consent to rule him by letting him please her. But she was not man’s intellectual equal, and needed him to tell her (as Henry Sr. does in this article) about her true nature and duty…She was above all a “form of personal affection…Her aim in life is…simply to love and bless man.”He came to the conclusion that selfish pleasure incurred punishment, and that suffering brought love. And he passed both those notions along to his own children.If ideas had no power, we'd have no use for alcohol and politics. Here we have the biography of a woman, part and parcel of an upper class 19th century family beloved by the echelons of literature, and events fall out as expected. Maybe not for the men with their thousands of disposable income, their boundless paternal encouragement towards a career that was not for the money, their ability to theorize and move their family across continents multiple times in order to experiment on their children for the sake of said theories. Their lives were always theirs for the taking.James [Sr.] wanted to triumph over his own selfishness by loving his children the way a mother would; but a mother did it by nature, not by choice. She was at once all virtue and no virtue, since she did not have to struggle to be good. Struggle, the essence of manhood, marked the path to divinity. Woman, therefore — mindless, selfless, naturally virtuous — was of no real account.Alice James, a woman in the house of cosmopolitan delights. Sexually objectified by the eldest brother William, sanctified by the second eldest Henry, let alone by the two less famous of the four James' boys. All of them suffered under their father's solipsistic benevolence, his breed of pedagogy both anarchical and naive, nauseating freedom with puritanical focus that kept their intelligent minds ignorant of evil until they were let loose as adults to find a meaning of life. All suffered through mental breakdowns and crises of conscience of various intensities, but it is one thing to do so in the midst of self-assertion and institutional guidance at a distance, and quite another to live with the source that could only be escaped via submission to another.Alice was fighting for self-control and for a strengthening sense of moral responsibility. In placing blame on an external "diabolical influx" at war with her pristine soul, her father's exonerating analysis took responsibility and control out of her hands.Alice described wanting to “knock off the head of the benignant pater as he sat with his silver locks, writing at his table.” She disguised this murderous wish thinly, with compliments and jokes, and slipped it into her narrative as a casual aside. She could not turn the towering rage that comes through in her writing even twenty years after the experience itself against the kind father who had so blithely stimulated and thwarted her. Instead, she turned the full force of her fury on herself, making herself literally ill.My previous experience with the infamous James' lies solely in a reading of The Turn of the Screw that did not end well, so rather than coming to this book in an effort to extend a long-running edifice of knowledge ever further, I came looking for a kindred spirit. My instincts weren't wrong, for the line of Dickinson-Woolf-Plath trails as long as the history of the patriarchy, and it is sickeningly easy to follow the breadcrumbs to yet another brilliant soul that made do with a toothpick while others fended freely with swords. What is special about these particular crumbs was the holistic approach of this book, one that did not flinch away from combining the assertions of the subject with the observations of the many around her, splicing movements of both history and thought into a story of times that were 'a-changin', told in such a way that one could feel it in the marrow. One could use the term 'objectivity', but I much prefer the credit Strouse gave to Alice for her life that took neither the form of infantilizing pedestal nor androcentric condemnation, but as erudite an empathy that there can be.At the age of fourteen, she had concluded that life for her meant renunciation, a sort of spiritual suicide…It was as if she ceded her body to the “feminine” principle of frailty and submission, while cultivating with her mind a “masculine” strength and indifference to pain.Throughout 1887 and 1888, Alice kept a collection of quotes that lay akin to her own views. It wasn't until 1889, age 41 and four years before her death, that she began her diary, finding her "voice", as it were. I am further along at age 22 than she ever was in terms of feminism and political consciousness, but I have had both education and the Internet. Despite those differences, what she has to say in regards to nervous disorders, colonialism, and melding care for one's life with moral statutes in an immoral world are of great worth to me.In her attitude toward her own suffering, Alice was in the process of finding a plot of moral ground on which to stand. She did have a choice about how to bear what she could not change...she wanted to learn not "forgetfulness" but rather "a certain fortitude — how to live and hold up one's head even while knowing that things were very bad. A brazen indifference...”“Ever since I have been ill, I have longed and longed for some palpable disease, no matter how conventionally dreadful a label it might have, but I was always driven back to stagger alone under the monstrous mass of subjective sensations, which that sympathetic being ‘the medical man’ has had no higher inspiration than to assure me I was personally responsible for.”Finding a way to think and speak for herself was, for Alice, her life’s highest aim.I've heard mournful stories told of the advent of the digital age meaning the death of letter writing, the end of the paper trails scholars so love to dig through in search of the core of their dead patrons. While I am grateful to biographies such as these that do their subjects respect to the utmost, I hope for a day when the words of others are given more value when they are alive than when they are available for exhumation. Alice wished her diary to be published; let no one living today share her fate.The diary made a start. In deciding to speak up at last, to articulate her life, Alice announced that private experience had inherent value, and that she had something to say about it. She was finding in the process of keeping a diary a nascent sense of self, much as William had one in determining that his first act of free will would be to believe in free will. Less assertively than William, less deliberately than Henry, Alice was taking hold of the reins at last.

  • Jenny McPhee
    2019-02-22 17:28

    In a colorful, chatty, and ironically self-aggrandizing letter to her Aunt Kate, Alice James concludes with a quip: "Forgive me all this egotism but I have to be my own Boswell." Alice James had to wait nearly a century, but she eventually found her Boswell in Jean Strouse. First published in 1980, Strouse's dazzling, bold, and formidable Alice James: A Biography has recently been reissued as part of the New York Review of Books Classics series and justly so. Strouse's study, composed in radiant prose, is easily a classic of biography, deftly and elegantly incorporating social history, family history, the history of the science of psychology, and literary criticism. Above all, the book is a paragon of feminist literature in which a marginalized life is brought into focus and examined from multiple perspectives, validating a previously neglected experience and suggesting alternative ways of approaching the past. Like Boswell's Life of Johnson, Jean Strouse's biography of Alice James represents a major advance in the development of the genre, and is as relevant and powerful a piece of writing today as when it was first published. Alice James was born in 1848, the fifth child and only daughter of Henry and Mary James, and sister of William James, the psychologist and philosopher, and Henry James, the novelist. Her father, who had lost his leg as a young man, was an eccentric writer and philosopher who devoted himself to his children's moral instruction. He thought travel the best education and much of Alice's early childhood was spent traipsing around Europe. This impermanency made an already insular family even more codependent. The family eventually settled in Newport and then Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alice's father doted on her and encouraged her learning but was adamant that she adhere to her true nature and duty as a woman. In an article entitled "Woman and the Woman's Movement" (Putnam's Monthly, 1853), he wrote "Woman is... inferior to man... She is his inferior in passion, his inferior in intellect, and his inferior in physical strength... Her aim in life is... simply to love and bless man." Alice's mother did her utmost to comply with this ideal of maternal and wifely devotion. With the help of her unmarried sister Katherine, she ran a smooth household, shielding her husband and sons from any domestic worries while pursing their higher intellectual callings. Alice exhibited superior intelligence, pungent wit, marked ambition, and competitiveness. At first her precociousness fit in with the peculiarities of the James family universe. But, as is typical of so many girls, when Alice hit puberty, her own desires and expectations clashed dangerously with both the family ethos and that of the world at large. Life's lesson, she later wrote in her diary, was "to clothe oneself in neutral tints, walk by still waters, and possess one's soul in silence." Her solution to the problem of her existence took a violent, yet socially acceptable, form. She became chronically ill.Read the rest of the review at Bookslut:

  • Jaylia3
    2019-02-12 15:26

    This comprehensive book about the insightful but often thwarted Alice James, the lone daughter in the family that included novelist Henry James and psychologist and philosopher William James, shines a bright light on the post-Civil War/pre-suffrage lives of women born into educated New England households. The Civil War created a surplus of women in Massachusetts; there were almost 50,000 more women than men in 1870 and by 1880 that number had increased to 66,000. Naturally, many of these women were unable to marry, and scores of them, inspired by the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe, turned to writing popular novels. Though disparaged by the admirers of Transcendentalists like Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne, literature by women had a large almost captive audience of disenfranchised females. When her diaries were published after her death Alice was celebrated as a talented writer but she was not one of the new female novelists. Alice was never expected, encouraged or often even allowed to do much of anything at all. During this era there seemed to be an epidemic of women suffering “nervous disorders”, and their number included Alice, because in spite of her excellent mind for much of her life she had no real work to do. Her father, Henry James Sr., was wild and unmanageable in his youth, rebelling against his strict religious father, and he was generally forward thinking as an adult, providing a rich environment for his children that helped nourish his oldest sons’ abilities, but there was a dichotomy in his thinking because he could only be so progressive based on his upbringing and the age he lived in. He believed women were superior to men and meant to be admired and emulated, but because of that they were uninteresting, had no need of education or cultivation, and needed to be protected. Growing up in this situation Alice spent much of her life at war with herself, and her health suffered.This is not a downer of a book, however, because Alice ultimately does find a place for herself in the world as it was, and it’s fascinating to have an intimate glimpse of the lives of women in the late 1800’s and the and early family years of Henry and William James. Alice James: A Biography also provides many opportunities for further reading if you are interested. I haven’t been able to find a source for the diaries of Alice James, but the background information about William and Henry James inspired me to read or reread their writing, and then there is also all those female novelists, whose work can often be downloaded as e-books at sites like Project Gutenberg.

  • John
    2019-02-09 19:42

    Among the best biographies written of a member of the James family. Strouse has scoured all available sources and woven her findings into a compelling narrative of Alice James' life, the distortions of personality and emotion that male James inflicted upon the women in their families and households, and Alice's life-long resistance to their attempts to impose a conventional self and identify upon her as well as her struggle to define and invent herself - an achievement she accomplished only after her parents' deaths and her acquiring a room of her own in London. A fascinating story of the life of a very brave woman.

  • Nancy
    2019-02-11 16:40

    The biography is called "Alice James" but the story necessarily encompasses the James family with Alice as a part of it. As a consequence, she absorbed the Jamesian attitudes, learning, curiosity and insular attitudes. There is not enough about Alice in what is expected to be her biography. She is seen through the eyes of her friends and brothers. An invalid for most of her life, she produced a diary upon which all the accolades of "brilliance" are based. But you won't find that in this book.Even in much of her diary, she quotes other people. Since I haven't read it, that is only what the author has to say about it. The best diary compilation, according to Strouse, is the 1964 version published and edited by Leon Edel. You have to be intensely interested in the James family to make it through this over-long study which essentially does what it says it hopes not to do and that is to make Alice an extension of her brothers. In this book, too, she is like an afterthought.

  • Caroline
    2019-02-07 14:44

    I will, obviously, read almost anything about the James family, but Strouse's writing redeemed the bio genre for me. It's possible to write biography like this? To not be carried away by your nervous, repellent, unsavory topic? Strouse writes a book about ideas, not people. This book never goes in for sheer gossip and is such a delight to read because of it. Also, the footnote layout is incredible. Long paragraphs, all on one page!

  • M. Sarki
    2019-02-17 16:52

    A bit too heavy on the family, the famous two older brothers, and the social scene. More focus on Alice James would have been preferred. The last quarter of the biography was marvelous, so much so that the diary Alice wrote during the last four years of her life is definitely in my future as another assigned reading. And soon.

  • Rachel Haselden
    2019-01-29 13:42

    Not particularly easy to read yet kept going as it was such an interesting read of a family life and gender politics of the mid to late 1880s in the US (and Britain). It's a biography of Alice James who's known as a diarist of the famous brothers, Henry James (novelist) and William James (psychologist). Her mental and physical illness and expectations of the times for women keep her life very restricted. She was a very intelligent woman who became a diarist later in life. Another brother, Robertson James, wrote after Alice's death:"Dear Alice's life didn't seem beautiful, but I doubt not it was interiorly beautiful. This is nothing beautiful in a life that has nothing to overcome. And she overcame more than any of us can ever know." (p.316)

  • Arlene
    2019-02-09 13:34

    This is what an historical biography reads like in its finest form. The details are not historical tedium but rather poignant and fascinating. The book does not plod along from detail to detail, but rather it moves along a lifetime that is representative and fascinating. Strouse provides a window we have left, today, to look back (as even-handedly as possible) on the James family, the time they lived in, and Alice's place in both.In looking back we see that people were no different, Alice faced most of the challenges any of us do today, and we certainly recognize her struggles - mostly called other names - but still familiar.Strouse raises our ability to understand Alice, all the more, by providing us with context: the understandings of the day, the social norms of the period, and the so important family dynamic that is well discerned from the historical record.I read this book interested in Alice James (I had read books about her brother William and by her brother Henry). I have definitely learned more about Alice and their family. I wanted to read this book, too, to experience a well executed historical biography. I absolutely feel that is indeed what I read.I recommend this book.

  • Kyle
    2019-02-16 18:27

    I've been fascinated by the James family for some time. I enjoy Henry's novels and William's philosophy. I have always wondered, especially after reading biographies of William and Henry, how their three less famous siblings, Wilky, Robertson, and Alice dealt with their brothers' fame.Strouse's biography did an excellent job of capturing the wit of Alice James, as well as the sense of what might have been if Alice had been born in a different age, an age where women had the same opportunities as men. Alice's story is a tragedy and at times it's hard to sympathize with her acerbic tongue and her attention seeking fits of poor health. But James' writing is so eloquent and hilarious:"Imagine the martyrdom of a pun which has become an integral portion of one's organism to be lugged through life like the convict's ball and chain. Do you suppose he vainly tries to escape it, or is he passive in its clutches or can it be possible that some memory of the joy still survives which irradiated his being, the first time he heard it from his lips in the springtime of his practice?"There was enough good stuff in here that at some point in the future I hope to read her diary.

  • Richard Kramer
    2019-02-15 19:40

    i've read a hundred pages. I probably would give it five stars if I finished it. But what are the odds? She was one crazy skirt, this Alice, fucked by being a woman at the wrong time, with two Elephant in the Room brothers (Henry and William) and fairly nuts to begin with. The book is thrilling, profound, and if I were a better person I would almost certainly finish it. Maybe one day I will be a better person. Will finishing ALICE JAMES do the job for me? I recommend this, the first hundred pages, anyway. I like books about women at the wrong time; cf Claire Tomalin's wonderful book (which I did finish) about Dickens' mistress Ellen Ternan. It's called THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (I think) and I also think I'll say a few words about it separately.

  • Jed Mayer
    2019-02-20 21:23

    A breathtaking, endlessly fascinating account of a life that, however unique, can be read as coextensive with those of so many feminine ciphers of the nineteenth century. Strouse never pities her subject, but makes of her psychological and physical struggles a kind of art form that ultimately bears noble comparison with those of her more famous brothers. What is especially remarkable is how fully realized Strouse's portrait is, given the shocking absence of documents from which to draw, and yet for all its perceptive analysis of James' peculiar life, she avoids subjecting her tender subject to intrusive pathological analysis. One of the most remarkable biographies I have ever read.

  • Lauren Albert
    2019-02-05 17:47

    If I had stopped half-way through, this would have been a "3." Strouse herself says that Alice James was not always likable and it is hard not to dislike her for her treatment of her friend Katharine--constantly torn between caring for her own ill sister and Alice. When Strouse turns to Alice's own words, diaries and letters, it (and she) becomes more interesting.

  • Barbara
    2019-02-07 15:44

    I found the analysis of feminism in the 19th century interesting but the life of Alice James, sister to famous William and Henry, was circumscribed by illness and of little accomplishment. The author seemed to be striving to make her subject's life have more meaning than it ultimately did.

  • Cynthia
    2019-02-14 13:49

    Very interesting bio. In addition to showing me more than I had ever known about the complexities of being a James, this book provides a picture of the contradictory impulses that strained the lives of women in an elite intellectual circle just after the end of the Civil War.

  • Joan
    2019-02-18 17:32

    I always find the James family interesting. A rich environment for a young man but poor Alice, surrounded by all those colorful men. Much material to be analyzed. I wonder how Alice would be diagnosed and treated today. And what she might have accomplished.

  • Tom Thompson
    2019-01-27 15:42

    Beautifully written, with close attention to language and cultural context, and clear-sighted empathy for a situation that it would be easy to play up ("hysteria," famous brothers, family rivalry, etc)

  • Lina
    2019-02-22 13:29

    Unless Strouse is giving away cash for good reviews, I am mystified by the strength of praise for this book. It's dry as a BONE, and I'm giving up feeling not a whole lot more edified about Alice than when I began. For a biography, that's pretty lame.

  • Jean
    2019-02-17 21:28

    Read for bookclubs, and was interested due to the subjects famous brothers, the author, and psychologist. However, had a hard time holding my interest thoughout to the end.

  • Reading with Cats
    2019-02-01 13:32

    Interesting, but quite dry.

  • Gary Norris
    2019-02-14 20:40

    read withThe Jsmeses.