Women Memoirists - Vol. 1

Women Memoirists - Vol. 1

Women Memoirists - Vol. 1

Women Memoirists - Vol. 1

Synopsis

Each volume covers a range of pre-eminent authors in their genre, and includes cameo bibliographies, critical extracts, and comprehensive and up-to-date bibliographies.

Excerpt

Of the dozen or so talented writers surveyed in this volume, one could not choose Alice James as the most eminent. Fanny Burney's Evelina and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God are memorable novels, and several of the other authors have composed lasting works. But I focus upon the Diary of Alice James partly because of its intrinsic values of thought and consciousness, but partly because of its author's famous predicament. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Henry James Sr. and Mary James, and so she numbered among her four older brothers William James, psychologist and philosopher, and Henry James Jr., novelist and person-of-letters. a lifelong depressive, Alice James composed her diary only during her final years, from 1889 to 1892. It manifests her remarkable qualities: fierce wit, ironic detachment, courage, endurance, pride, and grand strength of will. Unfortunately, the Diary's style is mixed and its tone radically uneven. Yet it shares in the James family's project of self-reliance and self-apotheosis, ultimately at one with Emerson's kind of American religion. in its religious recognitions, the Diary is very much part of Emersonian tradition, as we should expect from the daughter of Emerson's disciple Henry James Sr.

There are many felicities in Alice James's Diary, but the reader needs to cultivate the patience to wait for them. I treasure in particular one passage about the novelist Henry James Jr., to which R. W B. Lewis first called my attention, in his admirable The Jameses: a Family Narrative (1991). the greatest of our novelists generally kept himself at a defensive remove from the sufferings of others, but Alice James, writing in March 1890, gives us a unique portrait of the creator of Isabel Archer and Milly Theale:

Henry the patient, I should call him. Five years ago in November, I crossed the water and suspended myself like an old woman of the sea round his neck where to all appearances I shall remain for all time. I have given him endless care and anxiety but notwithstanding this and the fantastic nature of my troubles I have never seen an impatient look upon his face or heard an unsympathetic or misunderstanding sound cross his lips. He comes at my slightest sign and hangs on to whatever organ may be in eruption and gives me calm and solace by assuring me that my nerves are his nerves and my stomach his stomach—this last a pitch of brotherly devotion never before approached by the race. He has never remotely hinted that he expected me to be well at any given moment, that burden which fond friend and relative so inevitably impose upon the cherished invalid. But he has always been the same since I can remember and has almost as strongly as Father that personal susceptibility—what can one call it, it seems as if . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.