Sunday, February 26, 2017

Books Alice James Might Have Written

Alice James could lay claim to genius on a par with that of her more famous brothers, novelist Henry and philosopher William, but we only know this because her diary and letters have been preserved and published. Her literary gifts included a crisp, erudite, and politically pointed sense of humor (she is much funnier than her brothers), a delicate habit of observation that inverts the expected comparisons with startling results and finds the ridiculous in the sublime and vice versa, and an implacable honesty when it came to "that most interesting being," Alice herself. Between lifelong ill health, a combination of physical and mental ailments, and being denied anything close to a formal education, she had few opportunities to widen her cultural life beyond the confines of her or the occasional chum's house, though she read an astounding variety of literature and kept a close eye on current events. Granted the health, independence, and respect that she likely needed to have the rich life she so very much deserved, she might have left great works for posterity. I've trawled her diary for some potential titles and perhaps in some vaporous heaven, Alice is busy writing:

"The Truth of the Myriad of His Exquisitely Subtle Perceptions"
A work of literary criticism, in which the great works of the day, including those of her brother Henry, are thoroughly analyzed with a pungently expressed wit. Few of the female characters written by men, if any, pass muster, and the marriage plot is delicately eviscerated with the grace of a befanged Victorian pinkie.

"Chords Which Vibrate at Every Zephyr"
An essay in experimental modernism, in which every sensation, aural, visual, or otherwise, that produces a vibrational effect on the mechanism of her system is listed and catalogued. Long passages celebrate the scents wafting from the cologne and laudanum bottles.

"The Delectation of the British Matron"
A satirical novel, in which a newly married British lady comes to the United States and observes the Americans in their natural habitat, only to conclude that they are very vulgar and British is best.

"A Ghostly Moment"
A short story, companion to Henry's "The Jolly Corner," in which the sister of the haunted gentleman meets her phantasmal counterpart and finds her quite congenial, leading the two of them to throw over dusting for the day and take a holiday in Central Park.

"A Flaccid Virgin"
A good-humored account of a day in the life of an unmarried lady. Among the events described are a happy escape from a sister's begrimed and child-infested hovel, a stroll in the park in which she is accosted by a moustachioed gentleman who ruins her bonnet and smells of the pub, and the founding of an everlasting friendship with a small, stray dog whose perfect compatibility is represented by his lack of fleas.

"One More Amid a Million of the Superfluous"
A Swiftian polemic in protest of the proliferation of the human species, very much ahead of its time and, given its lusciously sensual and exquisite descriptions of the increasingly sullied natural world, a proto-environmentalist work.

"Great Minds Jump"
An erudite, but lively survey of eighteenth and nineteenth century philosophy, which includes a most affectionate portrait of William, but gently points out a lapse in his logic.

"Plum-Pudding or Any Other Indigestible Compound"
A recipe book, in which are listed all the absolute worst foods to serve to an invalid, accompanied by suggestive herbal and homeopathic remedies resultant upon eating such foods.

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