Alice James (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
Alice James, who was born in New York City on August 7, 1848, lived during a period in American history which was marked by enormous social, educational, and technological change. She knew many of the major social leaders and writers in America and in England. She was financially independent and was cared for by family, friends, and servants. When Alice was born, she found herself in the finest residential area in Manhattan, living in an ample three-story house in which lived her parents, four older brothers, her Aunt Kate, and several servants. Neither her father nor her mother ever worked at a conventional profession: her mother, Mary, maintained the family structure; her father, Henry Sr., maintained the family philosophy. There were books, visitors, lively discussions, and trips abroad. William and Henry Jr. thrived; Alice, the baby, became a neurotic invalid. Before she was forty-four, she was dead. From an external perspective, Alice James had a great deal—money, family, intellectual and cultural stimulation. Internally, however, she had very little—poor self-esteem, self-discipline, and social skills. This paradoxical impoverishment in the midst of riches is the real story of Alice James.
There are three major ways of approaching the life of Alice James: through her roles in her family, her role as a woman in the nineteenth century, and her role as an intellectual and literary influence. In all areas, she had opportunities to flourish. That she...
(The entire section is 2450 words.)
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