Interesting title for this book and it captured my attention and made me want to read it even before I knew much about the story! When I learned it was about Alice James the sister of psychologist William James and writer Henry James, I did not hesitate to pick the book up and read.
I liked everything about this book – everything. The writing was just perfect for the 1870s and captured the full image I had of Cambridge, Massachusetts I had tucked in my head. The family is now living in Cambridge after being “hotel” children all over Europe. Their Father being a lecturer and an interpreter of the “Divine Philosophy”. There is little formal education for the children and lots of chaos in the family’s style. Mary and Henry James are the parents of 5 children. Bob, Wilki, William, Henry, and Alice. Aunt Kate also lives with the family and they are surrounded with the elite of society. Their home is located right across the road from Harvard Square.
Alice may prove over time to be the most intelligent of the family, but she is stuck with being a WOMAN and so no privilege is extended her way. At about age 13, she begins fainting daily in the late mornings and is taken to numerous doctors about the “falls” and gets a number of bazaar diagnoses. The medications make it worse; probably the corsets and crinolines and heavy-duty tight, restrictive women’s clothing also contributed to her ailment. Women with hysteria diagnosis abounded.
Alice adored her brothers especially William who was thought to be a hypochondriac. William was a talented painter but Father made him go into science and he became highly interested in the mind; studying very intently. Henry abandoned his Father’s rules and took up writing and spent many years living in Europe. On a trip to England at age 38, Alice fell and lost the use of her legs. She was established in an apartment in England in a Spa City and could not travel again. She began writing a diary which after her death was published and people were amazed how she understood politics and society and was so keenly aware of what was happening all around her and her caustic and keen sense of humor.
I kept wondering if I would describe this story as a biography, historic fiction, or a well-researched expose’. I think I will use all three. I enjoyed the detail and the feisty pro-woman stance, and how they fit evenly into the culture and the expectations for the traditional woman of that era. There were several mentions of Emerson in the story but nothing about Margaret Fuller who would have been a kindred spirit to Alice.
History comes alive and I am very happy that TLC Book Tours sent me an advance PDF file to review this story. I am sure I will read this book again in the future -Paperback. I say that because my copy did not translate properly onto my Kindle. The print was so small, I had to keep stretching the page to be able to read it and the page then floated and would not move forward properly to turn the pages. In the 390 page read I am sure I used up over an hour keeping the page in front of me. This proved to be disconcerting. (Hard copy it is 325 pages)
“Alice in Bed is an absorbing, poignant, sometimes hilarious journey through the Gilded Age with one of literature’s most unusual and captivating heroines.”
Judith Hooper writes a fine story and this is her premier novel – a very good work. I know that many people will love this story and this history lesson.
“Judith Hooper was an editor at Omni magazine and is the author of Of Moths and Men and co-author of The Three-Pound Universe and Would the Buddha Wear a Walkman?: A Catalogue of Revolutionary Tools for Higher Consciousness. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.”(TLC page)