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A journal kept by the younger sister of novelist Henry and philosopher William might well be just another addition to the voluminous literary annals of the James family, dominated as it was by the two elder brothers. As it happens, however, Alice James did not write in personal praise of famous men, for she had her own world, a world notable for the narrowness of its horizons -- the four walls of an invalid's sickroom. Plagued since childhood with attacks of ""nerves"" in every conceivable form of neurasthenic affliction, Alice, after an early attraction to suicide, lived forty-two years in a slow, but cheerful, approach to the act of dying. Beginning in England in 1889 where sickness made her a permanent expatriate, the diary contains daily facts, witty, and often bruising commentaries on British society, local newspaper articles with her own Yankee notations, accounts from afar of the misery of the lower classes, sympathetic observations on the struggle for Irish Home Rule, mentions of the brothers' activities, and, of course, reminiscences and family memories. Her friend and constant companion Katherine Loring, was often joined at her bedside by brother Henry who continued to feel the strong bond of family sympathy until his sister's death. The humor bestowed by the invalid on the minutiae of her own world and the broader British realm surrounding it is sustained through the doctor's announcement (at last) of a ""palpable disease"" --cancer. And until the end in 1892, death is always present, not morbidly so, but as a fact from which Alice's life itself was fashioned. Her scope may have been narrow, her social observations over-simplified, but the whole is written with style and in detail, reminding the reader of Alice's membership in that special Jamesian world. Fully reproduced for the first time, the Journal is prefaced with a biography by Leon Edel and merits --on its own -- a niche in the chronicle of nineteenth century America's literati.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1964
Publisher: odd, Mead