Alice James

Alice James

(1848 - 1892)

Alice James was not published during her lifetime, unlike her famous older brothers, William and Henry. She was, however, a diligent diarist near the end of her life, observing plenty about the world in and outside her troubled mind despite rarely leaving her bed. She died of breast cancer several years after starting to chronicle her thoughts. “One sloughs off the activities one by one,” she wrote near the end, “and never knows that they’re gone, until one suddenly finds that the months have slipped away and the sofa will never more be laid upon, the morning paper read, or the loss of the new book regretted; one revolves with equal content within the narrowing circle until the vanishing point is reached, I suppose.”

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A late nineteenth-century concern for the nerve-racking speed of modern life prompted neurologist George Beard to introduce the term neurasthenia for a sickness whose symptoms include headaches, anxiety, impotence, insomnia, and lack of ambition. The condition was so prevalent in the United States that William James—who received the diagnosis along with his sister, Alice—referred to it as Americanitis.

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