Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Alice James” as Want to Read:
Alice James
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Alice James

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  114 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
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 19th-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.
Paperback, 382 pages
Published April 15th 1999 by Harvard University Press (first published 1980)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Alice James, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Alice James

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
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 th
Jenny McPhee
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 w ...more
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: james-family
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 afte ...more
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Lorin Stein, via TPR Staff Picks
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
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
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Richard Kramer
Mar 30, 2012 rated it liked it
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 page ...more
Jed Mayer
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Lauren Albert
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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.
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies
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.
Sep 22, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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)
Sep 10, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those out of their Ambien rx
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.
Mar 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
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
Interesting, but quite dry.
Gary Norris
Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
read with The Jsmeses.
Paula McCavigan
rated it really liked it
Sep 02, 2017
Kate Harper
rated it really liked it
Apr 25, 2013
La Sylphide
rated it it was amazing
Dec 15, 2016
rated it liked it
Feb 24, 2012
rated it really liked it
Jul 23, 2015
rated it really liked it
Mar 09, 2008
rated it it was amazing
Aug 14, 2013
rated it liked it
Jun 22, 2014
rated it really liked it
Apr 02, 2016
« previous 1 3 4 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
500 Great Books B...: Alice James - Jean Strouse - Aubrey 1 4 Oct 07, 2014 12:49PM  
NYRB Classics: Alice James: A Biography, by Jean Strouse 1 6 Oct 18, 2013 11:14AM  
  • Voltaire in Love
  • Diary of a Man in Despair
  • George Eliot: The Last Victorian
  • Mary Olivier, a Life
  • An Armenian Sketchbook
  • My Father and Myself
  • Naked Earth
  • The World as I Found It
  • The Outward Room
  • Great Granny Webster
  • The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert
  • The Other House
  • Love's Work: A Reckoning with Life
  • Henri Duchemin and His Shadows
  • A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne Jones, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin
  • The Pure and the Impure
  • The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters
  • The Snows of Yesteryear
Jean Strouse (born 1945) is an American biographer, cultural administrator, and critic. She is best known for her biographies of diarist Alice James and financier J. Pierpont Morgan.

Strouse was an editorial assistant at The New York Review of Books from 1967 to 1969. She was a book critic at Newsweek magazine from 1979 to 1983, and won a MacArthur Fellowship in September, 2001. She has also held f
More about Jean Strouse...

Nonfiction Deals

  • Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival
    $8.24 $1.99
  • A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
    $27.00 $2.99
  • Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
    $9.99 $2.99
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
    $10.74 $1.99
  • Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
    $8.99 $1.99
  • A Room of One's Own
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Life in a Medieval City
    $8.24 $1.99
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan
    $8.99 $1.99
  • Too Close to Me: The Middle-Aged Consequences of Revealing A Child Called "It"
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
    $9.24 $1.99
  • Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
    $13.99 $2.99
  • How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child
    $8.99 $1.99
  • Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir
    $11.49 $1.99
  • Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Heart of Christianity
    $9.74 $1.99
  • Hidden Figures
    $4.09 $1.99
  • Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man
    $7.24 $1.99
  • Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
    $13.99 $2.99
  • Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures
    $11.99 $1.99
  • WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us
    $14.99 $2.99
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
    $18.74 $2.99
  • K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
    $12.99 $1.99
  • The Art of Living: The Classical Mannual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
    $10.49 $1.99

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“Constance, with her plainness, deafness, and superior age (she was three years older than Henry), probably did not strike Alice as a serious rival for her brother’s love.” 0 likes
More quotes…