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Alice James: A Biography (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – November 1, 2011
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“From an isolated, eventless existence, Jean Strouse extracts something that did not exist for centuries: a woman’s interior life.”
—Stacy Schiff, The Wall Street Journal
“Engrossing, disquieting … Stunning, this book is haunting.”
—Naomi Bliven, The New Yorker
“Jean Strouse's biography of this infantilized, untimely, brilliant, radical, wasted, proud, hysterical woman does her complexity justice. Without didacticism or polemic, Strouse squarely confronts and explores the broad issues of medical and intellectual history that Alice James' life raises so provocatively. Her book is searching and scholarly, fascinating and sound. It is as good a history of Judith Shakespeare as we'll ever have, and its complex lessons, for both men and women, transcend intellectual history and touch life at its moral core.”—The Boston Globe
“Miss Strouse, in acquainting us with the younger sister of William and Henry James, has, as it were - and she is witty about Henry's ''ineluctable 'as it weres' - written a Jamesian novel, subtle, evasive, embroidered, splendid.... Miss Strouse, who weaves instead of hammering home her delicate points is as expert in literary criticism as she is in recreating family life, medicine, psychology and education in 19th-century America. —John Leonard, The New York Times
“This is an important book for those interested in women’s history, in literary biography and for those who want to gain insight into the inner workings of human beings.”—The Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
Jean Strouse is the author of Morgan, American Financier as well as Alice James, which won the Bancroft Prize. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Newsweek, Architectural Digest, and Slate. She is currently the Sue Ann and John Weinberg Director of the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.
Colm Tóibín is the author of six novels, including The Master (a novel based on the life of Henry James) and Brooklyn, and two collections of stories, Mothers and Sons and The Empty Family. He has been a visiting writer at Stanford, the University of Texas at Austin, and Princeton, and is now Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.
Top customer reviews
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 at 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.
I cannot believe how well written some of these "older" books are. The story captured me from the beginning. I was introduced to Henry James by a friend some years ago. She had read some of his works in high school; I had never read him. Indeed, I had not even heard of Henry James. Curious, I tried reading Henry James and almost gave up. But I continued, and the more I read, the more interesting I found him to be. I eventually read the biography of his brother William, often said to be the most important psychologist in US history. In all those biographies there are references to Alice. I've always been curious about her.
Finally, a biography of Alice. It is amazing how far we've come with regard to allowing women to seek their full potential. It is no wonder there were so many great female writers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That was the only way they could express themselves.
This is a big book, meant for serious readers. I would not recommend it as the first biography of the James family to be read. If I had to choose only one (William or Henry) to read first, it would be a hard call. I know I did it right be reading Edel's biography (the shorter biography) of Henry first and then Richardson's biography of William before tackling Alice. I guess if push came to shove, it would be Edel's one-volume biography of Henry.
Jean Strouse, the author, is editor of "Women and Analysis: Dialogues on Psychoanalytic Views of Femininity (1974)." Unlike some other feminist authors I have read, Strouse writes in a matter-of-fact style, never "in your face," and very enjoyable, even for a 60'ish-year old man like me.