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Alice in Jamesland

The Story of Alice Howe Gibbens James

Susan E. Gunter

Publication Year: 2009

Alice in Jamesland, the first biography of Alice Howe Gibbens James—wife of the psychologist and philosopher William James, and sister-in-law of novelist Henry James—was made possible by the rediscovery of hundreds of her letters and papers thought to be destroyed in the 1960s. Encompassing European travel, Civil War profiteering, suicide, a stormy courtship, séances, psychedelic mushrooms, the death of a child, and an enduring love story, Alice in Jamesland is a portrait of a nineteenth-century upper-middle-class marriage, told often through Alice’s own letters and made all the more dynamic because of her role in the James family.
Susan E. Gunter positions Alice as a lens through which to view the family, as a perceptive observer privy to knowledge of relationships to which those outside the James family were not. She also portrays Alice as the cohesive factor that held the Jameses together, bridging the gap between brothers William and Henry and acting as the stable center for a highly gifted but eccentric family. An idealistic, serious young woman, Alice was uniquely suited to join this clan, bringing psychological soundness and unshakeable personal conviction to her union with the Jameses. Her life’s story provides a fascinating view of one of America’s most important intellectual dynasties and offers new insights into the lives of nineteenth-century women.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xii

First, I thank Westminster College for a sabbatical leave and a Gore Summer Research Grant; I also thank the Houghton Library at Harvard University for awarding me the William Dean Howells Fellowship...

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pp. xiii

I first discovered Alice Howe Gibbens James, a vibrant woman who played a key role in the lives of two famous American geniuses, psychologist and philosopher William James and his younger brother...

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1. Stirrings

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pp. 1-19

Alice Howe Gibbens was born on 5 February 1849 in a beautifully proportioned Federalist Greek Revival home on King Oak Hill in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was the first of Eliza Webb Gibbens and

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2. New Ventures

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pp. 20-31

In 1868, before leaving Weymouth for Europe, Alice read an article in the Boston Advertiser describing the experiences of an American woman who had lived in Germany.1 Alice invited the writer to lunch and gleaned

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3. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

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pp. 32-53

Whittier was not Alice's only admirer at the Radical Club. Family lore and various commentators claim that Henry James Sr. met Alice Howe Gibbens early in 1876 at a club meeting. Upon his return to 20 Quincy Street he announced to his wife, Mary, his son William, and his

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4. Alice in Jamesland

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pp. 54-78

While Mary and Henry James Sr. had already made it clear they would be delighted if Alice undertook the task of marrying their eldest son, Henry James Jr. also welcomed her. No one knew William's intense...

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5. The Grief Child

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pp. 79-90

The end of 1883 saw the death of yet another James: Garth Wilkinson James died in Milwaukee on 15 November at the age of thirty-eight of Bright's disease (a chronic kidney disease). Henry visited him in February...

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6. New Directions

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pp. 91-110

As Alice slowly recovered from her loss, William's work took new directions. His first recorded interest in psychic phenomena came in 1869, when he reviewed a book by Epes Sargent, Planchette, or the Despair...

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7. 95 Irving Street and Beyond

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pp. 111-122

By the Fall of 1888 the Jameses had realized that it was time for them to find more permanent quarters. William had a solid position and modest income at Harvard, but even with the Syracuse rental income...

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8. On Sabbatical

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pp. 123-143

On 25 May 1892 at 4:30 p.m. the SS Friesland, pulled by tugs, moved slowly from the docks at Jersey City, all six members of the family plus a nursemaid aboard, their total fare....

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9. The Will to Endure

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pp. 144-164

The Jameses returned to Cambridge in August 1893, only to face financial losses and the necessity of consolidating their holdings. The American economy had dipped precariously during their months abroad:...

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10. To Bad Nauheim

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pp. 165-187

Once aboard the Graf Waldersee, Alice caught her breath from the last month's frantic preparations and reconciliations. Below in her large outside stateroom she found a moment to write to her sons before the ship sailed. "Now Peggy wants me to go up and see the steamer leave...

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11. Mendings

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pp. 188-199

Alice arrived in Bad Nauheim on 23 September1. This time the Jameses had better quarters, a corner sitting room with two bedrooms on either side so that they need not be together day and night. Their stay...

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12. A Form of Use

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pp. 200-220

Late-Summer Cambridge sweltered as Alice struggled to unpack the gatherings of two years abroad: clothes, a little furniture, even underclothing for Billy.1 She had sprained her ankle at Rye just two days before the...

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13. The Lull before the Storm

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pp. 221-242

For months Henry had lobbied for Alice to take a vacation, so he wholeheartedly approved of her decision to go to Stanford, praising sunny, flowery California. "It will be so much money in my pocket, or balm to...

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14. Summer’s End

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pp. 243-257

In December 1907 Billy, who showed promise as an artist and who had returned from Paris, painted his mother several hours a day while she sat with her eternal sewing.1 He represents her as beautifully serene...

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15. Last Things

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pp. 258-269

Upon Hearing Henry's distressed wails from deep in Sussex, William decided to take passage for 29 March on a newly launched ship, the White Star Line's Megantic.1 In mid-March Alice agreed that William...

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16. The Philosopher’s Widow

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pp. 270-291

"No man can know how a wife can miss her husband," Alice informed Harvard professor Barrett Wendell six weeks after William's death.1 In her case, however, William's international reputation allowed her a sphere...

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17. Passages

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pp. 292-304

Alice arrived in Liverpool on 13 December 1915. Her passage on the New York went relatively well despite the weather, which caused the roughest crossing the steward had seen in fifteen years. Though her errand...

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18. Living Option

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pp. 305-330

It was as if two lightning bolts had torn through Alice. Who was she after years of immersion in the James clan? William had demanded far more of her than Henry had. She collaborated in his life and work, steadying him so that he could work productively and providing constant...

Appendix 1: Alice Howe Gibbens Genealogy

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pp. 331

Appendix 2: William James Genealogy

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pp. 332


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pp. 333-406


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pp. 407

E-ISBN-13: 9780803222755
E-ISBN-10: 0803222750

Illustrations: 26 b/w photos; 2 figs.
Publication Year: 2009