House of Wits by Paul Fisher
An Intimate Portrait of the James Family

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An American odyssey that reveals the fascinating complexities of one of history's most brilliant, eccentric, and daring families The James family, one of America's most memorable dynasties, gave the world three famous children: a novelist of genius (Henry), an influential philosopher (William), and an invalid (Alice) who became a feminist icon, despite her sheltered life and struggles with mental illness. Although much has been written on them, many truths about the Jameses have long been camouflaged. The conflicts that defined one of American's greatest families-- homosexuality, depression, alcoholism, female oppression--can only now be thoroughly investigated and discussed with candor and understanding.
Paul Fisher's grand family saga, House of Wits, rediscovers a family traumatized by the restrictive standards of their times but reaching out for new ideas and ways to live. He follows the five James offspring ("hotel children," Henry called them) and their parents through their privileged travels across the Atlantic; interludes in Newport and Cambridge; the younger boys' engagement in the Civil War; and William and Henry's later adventures in London, Paris, and Italy. He captures the splendor of their era and all the members of the clan--beginning with their mercurial father, who nurtured, inspired, and damaged them, setting the stage for lives of colorful passions, intense rivalries, and extraordinary achievements. House of Wits is a revealing cultural history that revises and completes our understanding of its remarkable protagonists and the changing world where they came of age.

About Paul Fisher

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Paul Fisher comes from a family of writers and has taught American literature at Harvard, Yale, Wesleyan, Boston University, and Wellesley. He lives in Boston.
Published October 22, 2013 by Henry Holt and Co.. 710 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction

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Back and forth across the Atlantic we go, with Henry fils spending most of his career abroad, Alice settling in England eight years before her death and the rest of the clan making frequent visits.

Jun 10 2008 | Read Full Review of House of Wits: An Intimate Po...

The New York Times

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The James archives have been pretty well raked over by now (the most revealing bits were probably burned by the younger Henry and his Aunt Catharine, worried about propriety), and there have been two family biographies already, as well as several exceptionally good books devoted to individual me...

Jul 30 2008 | Read Full Review of House of Wits: An Intimate Po...

The New York Times

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Paul Fisher refers to the James home as a “chamber of horrors,” a “plague ship” and “the James family bog.” His big project is to tell the James family story as a traumatic saga of dysfunction, competition, anxiety, aspirations often thwarted, confusion, repression, breakdown and sadness, of life...

Jul 06 2008 | Read Full Review of House of Wits: An Intimate Po...

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