Alice James interests many as not only the sister of two great writers but as an example of a writer struggling to make her voice heard against the torrents of misogyny and dreadful illness. Her diary is ably edited by Leon Edel, and contains a lot of shrewd portrait-painting of her brothers (including the third, not-famous brother who sparkles throughout this diary, even though he left this life without a shadow), as well as some general philosophy. She is ever ready to remind herself that she is a child of privilege, and yet a trace of self-pity remains, like some stubborn stain that proves unexpectedly difficult to scrub out.
"What an awful loss it is that we can't see our own follies," James writes, "they must be so much more exquisite than any one's else, but as vanity is what keeps the world agoing, after one or two convulsive laughs, the game would certainly be up!
"Shall I ever have any convulsive laughs again! Ah, me! I fear me not. I had such a feast for 34 years that I can't complain." Anyone who wants to know about American writing at the turn of the century should get a copy of this book. "What difference is there in the spiritual essence of two viragoes fighting on their door-steps over a coal-ticket, left or not left by the district visitor and that of two great ladies at daggers drawn over their seat at some function or other?--all simply scrambling for something they haven't got."