Of his sister's relationship with Loring, Henry James, wrote, "A devotion so perfect and generous ... was a gift so rare ... that to brush it aside would be almost an act of impiety. In Alice and Katharine, James found a model for the feminist characters in The Bostonians.
"I wish you could know Katharine Loring. She is a most wonderful being. She had all the mere brute superiority which distinguishes man from woman combined with all the distinctly feminine virtues. There is nothing she cannot do from hewing wood and drawing water to driving run-away horses and educating all the women in North America." –Alice James (Stuber)
Alice James (reclining) and Katharine Loring, taken at the Royal Leamington Spa (England), c. 1890
Alice James was a American diarist. She was sister of novelist Henry James. Her and Katharine Peabody Loring was one of the most celebrated Boston marriages. "I wish you could know Katharine Loring. She is a most wonderful being. She had all the mere brute superiority which distinguishes man from woman combined with all the distinctly feminine virtues. There is nothing she cannot do from hewing wood and drawing water to driving run-away horses and educating all the women in North America."
Born into a wealthy and intellectually active family James soon developed the psychological and physical problems that would end her life at age 43. Youngest of five children, she lived with her parents until their deaths in 1882. She taught history from 1873 to 1876 for the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, a Boston-based correspondence school for women founded by Anna Ticknor. James never married, seeking affection from her brothers and female friends instead. By 1882, she suffered at least two major breakdowns and would experience several more before her death from breast cancer.
In the Victorian era, hysteria was an extremely common diagnosis for women. Almost any disease a woman had could fit the symptoms of hysteria because there was no set list of symptoms. In 1888, twenty years after James was "overwhelmed by violent turns of hysteria" she wrote in her diary that she was both suicidal and homicidal. She was struggling with the urge to kill her father, though this diary entry does not state the reason why she was patricidal. In 1866 James traveled to New York to receive "therapeutic exercise" and in 1884 she received electrical "massage." She hoped that a change of scenery would improve her health, and so she traveled to England with her companion Katherine Peabody Loring. She suffered recurring bouts of "hysteria" for the next eight years until she died from breast cancer. James sought various treatments for her disorders but never found significant relief.
As Alice was suffering from breast cancer, her brother, William James, wrote her a letter explaining how much he pitied her. He advised her to "look for the little good in each day as if life were to last a hundred years." He wanted her to save herself from suffering the torment of physical pain. "Take all the morphia (or other forms of opium if that disagrees) you want, and don't be afraid of becoming an opium-drunkard. What was opium created for except for such times as this?" While opium was a freely available panacea at this time, it is unknown if Alice James used it prior to her cancer, late in life.
James began to keep a diary in 1889. Full of witty, acerbic, insightful comments on English life and manners, it included excerpts from various publications to support her opinions. The diary was not published for many years after her death due to sharp comments on various persons whom she had mentioned by name. A poorly edited version of the diary was eventually released in 1934. Leon Edel published a fuller edition in 1964. The diary has made James something of a feminist icon: she was seen as struggling through her illnesses to find her own voice. Henry, one of Alice’s brothers, read this work with deep alarm (because of its candid indiscretions about family and friends) but also with enormous admiration. He wrote another of the James brothers, William, that he now understood what had caused their sister’s debility. The diary, he said, displayed for him Alice’s great "energy and personality of intellectual and moral being," but also, "puts before me what I was tremendously conscious of in her lifetime -- that the extraordinary intensity of her will and personality really would have made the equal, the reciprocal life of a ’well’ person—in the usual world—almost impossible to her—so that her disastrous, her tragic health was in a manner the only solution for her of the practical problems of life—as it suppressed the element of equality, reciprocity, etc." This view of the diary's significance, however, has been criticized as a facile and inaccurate tale of victim blaming .
Alice herself, however, did not see her illness as a product of conflict between her character and her "usual world" surroundings. To her it was instead the outcome of a struggle between her "will" or "moral power" and her "body." "In looking back now," she wrote toward the end of her life, "I see how it began in my childhood, altho’ I was not conscious of the necessity until ’67 or ’68 [when she was 19 and 20] when I broke down first, acutely, and had violent turns of hysteria. As I lay prostrate after the storm with my mind luminous and active and susceptible of the clearest, strongest impressions, I saw so distinctly that it was a fight simply between my body and my will, a battle in which the former was to be triumphant to the end...."
She eventually found, she continued, that she had to let loose of her body, giving up "muscular sanity" in order to preserve her mind: "So, with the rest, you abandon the pit of your stomach, the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, and refuse to keep them sane when you find in turn one moral impression after another producing despair in the one, terror in the others, anxiety in the third and so on until life becomes one long flight from remote suggestion and complicated eluding of the multifold traps set for your undoing."
James described two opposing views of what causes many ill-defined "psychosomatic" illnesses. In one of these a "flight into illness" relieves the individual of the burden of unbearably conflicted impulses, feelings, or social demands. In the other, the afflicted individual, far from taking refuge in illness, tries desperately to become or feel healthier. James suggests that illness may in fact be willed in order to avoid different social problems. According to her, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel movements, and migraines may be some of the illnesses that are feigned to avoid society.
Alice and her brother William had a close relationship that has been argued to consist of eroticism. William would write “mock sonnets” to Alice and read them to her in front of their family. One such sonnet has William declaring his desire to marry Alice to which she replies that he had told her not “to hope for love from [him].” William concludes the sonnet by saying that he will commit suicide since Alice will not marry him. There were also times where his letters to her were candidly erotic—he would describe her physical and personality characteristics and state how “desirable” and “lovable” they made her.
William used his artistic skill to draw five sketches of his sister, Alice. These pictures also demonstrate erotic overtones. Three of the sketches form a triptych. All of the panels exhibit Alice drawn older than she was at the creation of these sketches, as she was eleven at the time. She is sitting in a chair on a top floor while William is in a room below her. William is seen hunched over an instrument as he is serenading his sister in the first panel. He stands more erect in the next two panels. William is wearing a large head feather in each of the panels which progressively gets closer to the ceiling until it is pushing against it in the final panel. Growing from the outside of the building is a full bush in the first panel. The bush in the second panel is almost completely devoid of leaves and in the third panel, it is no longer there. The walls of the building shrink throughout the panels until they are almost nonexistent in the final panel. It has been argued that this triptych is a visual representation of a defloration fantasy.
The fourth sketch created by William of his sister contains a drawing of her head when she was a young teen. Alice’s eyes are cast downward and underneath her head, William wrote the caption, “The loveress of W.J.” The fifth sketch William drew of Alice when she was in her late teens. She is seen wearing a tight bodice and a feather hat. Across from her eye is a heart with an arrow through it, suggesting that she is in love. William’s initials are drawn on the sleeve covering Alice’s arm. This has been suggested to mean that William has branded his sister as his and she was content with this as she wore her ‘heart’ on her sleeve.
In 1878, William married Alice Gibbons. Soon after, his sister became ill. When Alice James was close to death in 1892 she wrote this in her journal: “the fact is, I have been dead so long and it has been simply such a grim shoving of the hours behind me…since the hideous summer of ’78, when I went down to the deep sea, its dark waters closed over me and I knew neither hope nor peace.”
Jean Strouse published what has become the standard life (Alice James: a Biography) in 1980. Strouse steered something of a middle course between Alice-as-icon and Alice-as-victim. Ruth Bernard Yeazell published James' correspondence in The Death and Letters of Alice James (1981). Susan Sontag wrote a play about James, Alice in Bed (1993), which seems to waver between sympathy and impatience with its subject.
Katharine Peabody Loring (1849-1943), and Louisa Putnam Loring (1854-1924) were two of the four children born to Caleb William Loring (1819-1897), and his wife, Elizabeth Smith Peabody Loring (1822-1869; married 1845). There were also two sons, William Caleb Loring (1851-1930), and Augustus Peabody Loring, (1856-1938). Following the death of their much loved mother, Elizabeth, the four children developed a very strong, and loving relationship with their father, Caleb. This is evident in the numerous letters which Caleb wrote to his daughters, both individually and together, and in the multipage letters he received from them in return. Much like his father Charles Greeley Loring (1794-1867), Caleb studied law at Harvard and became a lawyer. He was also involved in manufacturing, and served as the president of the Plymouth Cordage Company. The family lived in Boston, but in 1852 Caleb built one of the first summer homes at Pride’s Crossing, Beverly, which he called Burn Side. His father had already built a summer residence there in 1846. After 1872, both Caleb, and his two daughters lived at the home in Beverly full-time. Caleb was also close to his sister, Jane (Jeannie) Lathrop Loring Gray (1821-1909), wife of the Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810-1888), and to his brother Charles (Charlie) Greeley Loring (1828-1907), a decorated officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. Charles later became an Egyptologist, and served as the first director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1881-1902).
From a young age, Katharine was a prolific writer, and she also liked to sketch. Some of her sketches can be found among her letters. As an adult, she corresponded with a significant group of post-Civil War American women writers. The group includes: Edith Wharton (1862-1937), Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894), Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909), Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards, (1850 -1943), and Eliza Orne White (1856-1947). Katharine also had a close relationship with the James family who were summer residents in Beverly. She corresponded with both brothers, the famous writer Henry James (1843-1916), and with the eminent psychologist, William James (1842-1910). Katharine was both a friend and a companion to their younger sister, Alice James (1848-1892) who seemed to have suffered from physical and/or mental illness during much of her life. Like many afflicted women of the period, Alice was treated for hysteria with a variety of experimental treatments. Together with Katharine, Alice relocated to London in 1884. The pair remained in England until Alice’s death from breast cancer in 1892 at the age of forty-three. From Alice’s biography it appears that their relationship was romantic, as well as a platonic.
As an early advocate for women’s education, Katharine was a founding member, and a teacher for more than twenty years for the Society to Encourage Studies at Home (SH). Developed by Anna Eliot Ticknor (1823-1896) and based on an English model, the SH (c. 1873-1897) was the first correspondence school in the United States. Katharine served as a trustee for the Beverly Public Library for forty years. Katharine and her sister Louisa donated the land on which the Beverly Farms branch of the Beverly public library was built. Katharine was also an officer in the Women’s Education Association, and President of the Massachusetts Library Club. She held the office of President of the Beverly Historical Society for twenty-three years, from 1918-1941. It was during this period that the Society acquired its two additional properties, Balch House and Hale Farm, as well as many important collections related to the history of Beverly and environs. As a seemingly tireless volunteer, Katharine Loring was a Red Cross worker, and also assisted her sister with the Anti-Tuberculosis Society in Beverly. She was involved with the Beverly Improvement Society, the Beverly Farms Improvement Society, and served as an honorary chairman of the women’s division of the Beverly Chamber of Commerce. She died in 1943 in Beverly, Mass.
Louisa Putnam Loring (1854-1924) was also involved in social reform and philanthropic causes. However, she differed from her older sister in that she also had a great interest in music and literature. Louisa was an accomplished pianist and harpist. She composed the lyrics to a hymn, “O Thou Who Turnest Into Morning,” and compiled a book of hymns, Hymns of the ages (Cambridge, Mass.: University Press, 1904). Together with her friend, the poet, George Woodbury (1855-1930), she wrote a book of poetry, At Burn Side: verses (Boston: Privately printed, 1927) that was produced in a limited edition of 150. She also encouraged amateur writers, such as her friend, the lawyer, Henry Walton Swift (1849-1924), and the Reverend William David Morrice. Examples of their poetry appear in the Loring papers. One of Louisa’s most significant humanitarian achievements was the founding of a sanitarium in Aiken, South Carolina, called Aiken Cottages, for people afflicted with tuberculosis. She was also the founder of the Anti-Tuberculosis Society in Beverly. Louisa served as the director of the Beverly Hospital for many years, and was the secretary for the Essex County chapter of the Red Cross. Her wide range of interests are apparent in her letters written to her father and others throughout her life. Louisa died in 1924.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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