Why Alice James?

One of the most frequently asked questions about the press is, why Alice James? Alice James Books is named after the sister of the famous philosopher William James and novelist Henry James, Alice James, who lived a largely confined and isolated life. The youngest of five children, she never married and lived with her parents until their deaths. Although her four brothers were broadly educated in the US and Europe, Alice’s education was haphazard, reflecting her father’s belief   that “The very virtue of woman… disqualifies her for all didactic dignity. Learning and wisdom do not become her.” Keenly self-aware, she started a journal in 1889, as a way of recording her own understanding of herself. She entrusted it to her friend Katherine Loring, shortly before her death in 1892, of breast cancer. Loring sent copies to her brother Henry and other family members. In 1943 it was published, in incomplete form, by a niece, who called it Alice James: Her Brothers — Her Journal. Not until 1964 was the journal published in its entirety. Alice James has since become somewhat of a feminist icon, in recognition of her struggle for self-expression within the repressive Victorian notion of femininity.

When the press was founded in 1973 by five women and two men in Boston, Ma., the goal was to establish a press that gave voice to women poets. Alice James’ story and life served as essential inspiration for this work, because at that time women who weren’t “writing like a man” had a difficult time gaining respect for their work and getting published. The founders’ vision to support women writers is carried out today, though the press seeks to publish poets with a broad range of voices from the poetry community.

excerpts from Alice James’ Journal:

Leamington, May, 1889
I think that if I get into the habit of writing a bit about what happens, or rather doesn’t happen, I may lose a little of the sense of loneliness and desolation which abides with me.

May 31
My circumstances allowing nothing but the ejaculation of one-syllabled reflections, a written monologue by that most interesting being, myself, may have its yet to be discovered consolations. I shall, at least, have it all my own way, and it may bring relief as an outlet to that geyser of emotions, sensations, speculations and reflections which ferments perpetually within my poor old carcass for its sins; so here goes,—my first journal!


Image of Alice James: The photograph of Alice James featured on our website is by permission of Houghton Library, Harvard University.