THE JAMESES by R.W.B. Lewis

THE JAMESES

A Family Narrative
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 William James wrote that brother Henry was really ``a member of James family, and has no other country.'' The meaning of that remark becomes abundantly clear in this weighty group biography, which probes how the master novelist, the pioneering psychologist- philosopher, and their siblings were shaped by the formidable legacy of their ancestors. While contributing little beyond the scholarly detective work of Leon Edel and Jean Strouse in their respective biographies of Henry and sister Alice, Lewis (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Edith Wharton, 1976) skillfully if leisurely gives all members of this unusual clan their due. William James of Albany, grandfather of the literary giants, was a Scotch-Irish immigrant whose shrewdness as merchant and real-estate investor (he bought the village of Syracuse just before it boomed) produced one of the largest American fortunes of the early 19th century. Yet son Henry James, Sr., was a restless religious thinker who left his own children with a legacy of intellectualism, angst, and apprehension over what he termed the ``money passion.'' In addition, Henry and William were affected by Alice, a brilliant woman who suffered devastating depressions, and by Wilky and Bob, whose Civil War service left their older brothers with a lifelong regret over missing the great engagement of their generation. These relationships--marked by affection, rivalry, and differences over how to engage life and art--are outlined by Lewis with restraint and subtle insights (e.g., how William and Henry became concerned with the supernatural and ``varieties of religious experience'' in the early 1900's). An astute family portrait, rendered in Jamesian style--by turns indirect, ironic, psychologically penetrating, and moving. (Thirty-two pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-374-17861-5
Page count: 660pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991




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