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The Jameses are perhaps the most extraordinary and distinguished family in American intellectual life. Henry’s novels, celebrated as among the finest in the language, and William’s groundbreaking philosophical and psychological works, have won these brothers a permanent place at the center of the nation’s cultural firmament. Less well known is their enigmatic younger sister, Alice. As Jean Strouse’s generous, probing, and deeply imaginative biography shows, however, Alice James was a fascinating and exceptional figure in her own right. Tortured throughout her short life by an array of nervous disorders, constrained by social convention from achieving the worldly success she so desired, Alice nevertheless emerges from this remarkable book as a personality every bit as peculiar and engaging as her two famous brothers. “The moral and philosophical questions that Henry wrote up as fiction and William as science,” writes Strouse, “Alice simply lived.” With a psychological penetration and high eloquence that are altogether Jamesian, Strouse traces the formation of a unique identity, from Alice’s unconventional peripatetic childhood in continental Europe through her years of spinsterhood in the United States and later England. It was there that she began to keep her celebrated diary, full of fitting social observation and unblinking self-analysis. “I consider myself one of the most potent creations of my time,” she wrote to William, with characteristic tartness, towards the end of her life, “and though I may not have a group of Harvard students sitting at my feet drinking in psychic truth, I shall not tremble, I assure you, at the last trump.”
“Engrossing, disquieting . . . Stunning, this book is haunting.” –Naomi Bliven, The New Yorker