A Nighttime Scene: Katharine and Alice in Bed

exsoloadsolem's picture

"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)

 Boston Marriage

 

            In our conversations in class about Alice James, I was struck by how close the world came to not knowing who Alice was. I considered her brothers and their roles in her life and in their respective fields, and it seems clear that none of them would have necessarily perpetuated Alice’s work or the eventual (posthumous) publication of Alice’s diary, especially Henry, who felt the diary betrayed his gossipy tendencies. In further conversation with Professor Dalke, I found myself puzzling over the notion of Alice James as the “Judith Shakespeare” of the James family. The notion of Judith Shakespeare as the intelligent, talented, and entirely forgotten sibling of a famous author didn’t seem to apply to Alice, who is remembered and represented by her diary. The “Judith Shakespeare” in the story of the James family, especially in terms of Alice, seemed to me to be Katharine Loring. Katharine Peabody Loring, the American companion [and “Boston wife” (Kennedy)] of Alice James, was the scribe of Alice’s diary when Alice grew too sick to write. Katharine reproduced the diary for Henry, William, Robertson and Garth Wilkinson (“Wilky”) James, Alice’s brothers, and kept a copy for herself. It was this first reproduction that enabled the diary’s later publication. In 1934 the diary was published by Mary James Vaux, the daughter of Robertson James and a Bryn Mawr graduate (and the original owner of Russian House and English House, who is buried in the Harriton Cemetery in Bryn Mawr). Had Katharine not reproduced the diary for Alice’s siblings, the text would not have been published by Mary Vaux and made available to us as readers. 

            By acting as Alice’s scribe and reproducing Alice’s diary for the James brothers after her death, Katharine Loring enabled the eventual publication of the diary. However, despite this triumph, very little information remains on Katharine Loring’s life. Almost all information that exists on Katharine Loring are publications of hers written on New England, mostly Massachusetts. There is almost no information that exists on the lifetime of Katharine Loring, especially not in reference to her companionship with Alice James. I have chosen to use this paper to creatively fill the gaps that exist in the story of Alice and Katharine’s relationship, in an attempt to capture the nature of a Boston marriage. In order to create a relationship between Katharine and Alice, I am depending on Alice’s character in the Susan Sontag play “Alice in Bed.” Using Alice’s personality and lines from Sontag’s dialogue, I will create a conversation between Katharine and Alice that will shed light upon their mysterious relationship. I have chosen to use punctuation within the dialogue to better communicate a sense of conversation. I have set Alice and Katharine in bed together, at some point after Alice’s diagnosis of malignant breast cancer. 

 

Katharine and Alice in Bed

 

Alice: Exhaustion. “Long ceaseless strain and tension have worn out all aspiration save the one for Rest! The shaping period is past and one is fitted to every limitation through the long custom of surrender.”

 

Katharine: Alice, please. You’ve no reason to quote yourself to me. I’m neither Harry nor the nurse. Let’s talk about something pleasant. You always seem so melancholy in the evening.

 

AliceI can talk about what I like. It can have a different ending. Perhaps I shall have a narrow escape. Perhaps everything will change at the last minute.

 

Katharine: Alice, you needn’t worry about any “narrow escape.” The way in which we leave this world should not frighten us. We may even pass in our sleep. Look how peaceful the nurse seems, asleep in her chair.

 

AliceLet’s not wake her. Two is my favorite size for a party. And let’s not be sad. I want to arrive at a more buoyant conclusion.

 

Katharine: While buoyancy is all well and good, and I wish to turn my mind to more cheerful thoughts, I am weighted by your moods. I worry about you, and the way you make yourself sick sometimes with anxiety or fear. I don’t like to complain to you, for you have much more on your mind than I do.

 

Alice:  You may complain to me. Do.

 

Katharine: Sometimes your thoughts terrify me. Your mind races in unpredictable ways, and comes to such negative conclusions. I cannot compete with your intelligence, and can only hope to comfort you, but your mind is out of my reach.

 

AliceSometimes I have such odd thoughts. My mind makes me feel strong. Makes me master. But I don’t throw myself on anything. I just stay in my lair. Sometimes feeling--

 

Katharine: Alice, why do you talk to me about these things? Harry is here often enough, and he knows you better than I ever will. His mind is much better matched to yours than mine.

 

AliceI wanted advice. From a woman I could respect. I’ve always sought advice from men.

 

Katharine: And I have never understood that. I mourn the fact that you only have brothers. Louisa has been to me what I have been to you, in a way. You seem willing to accept my advice or engage with me, but Harry can change your mind as soon as he appears. 

 

AliceExactly. I don’t have a sister.

 

Katharine: (silent)

 

AlicePlease don’t be angry. You needn’t have come if you really didn’t want to.

 

Katharine: Of course I had to come. You mean the world to me, however upset I become. I want you to be well, and happy, and that is where my frustration lies. I want you to understand how important you are to me, and you might never know. What do you seek from me that Harry cannot fulfill for you? What is there for me to offer you?

 

AliceAdvice. It’s enough if you console me. If you kindle my imagination. Draw close.

 

 

Works Cited

 

http://www.brynmawr.edu/facilities/russianhouse.shtml

 

http://www.brynmawr.edu/facilities/englishhouse.shtml

 

http://www.lowermerionhistory.org/burial/harriton/

 

James, Alice. The Diary of Alice James. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999. pp 160.

 

Kennedy, Pagan. "So... Are You Two Together?." Ms. Magazine June 2001. Web. 2 Feb 2010. <http://www.msmagazine.com/june01/marriage.html>.

 

M. E.  Reviewed work(s): Romantic and Historic Maine by A. Hyatt Verrill. The New England Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Jun., 1933), pp. 420-421. Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/359158>.

 

Sontag, Susan. Alice in Bed. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1993. Print.

 

Stuber, Irene. "Women of Achievement and Herstory." Liz Library Presents: 7 August 2006. Web. 2 Feb 2010. <http://www.thelizlibrary.org/undelete/woa/woa08-07.html>.

 

 

 

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

Minding Those Gaps

exsoloadsolem--

Let's start w/ the formatting. Writing on the web, it's important how your work appears, how it looks. You have some traces of composing this in Word (can you get rid of that messy formatting?). And then the rest is all bolded: it feels to me as though you (and your characters) are shouting--why? Also, your website cites need some re-formulating. On the other hand, the images are a sheer delight--and certainly draw me in (I'm especially tickled by the pansy bedcover!). I found myself wanting, though, links to the sources where you found the images: whose constructions are these, and in what contexts were they made? (the first seems perhaps from a play about the two women....?)

The next delight, of course, is the local interest you've found: that the publisher of the diary owned the building in which we are now studying it. (Why is not made more of this, in Bryn Mawr publications??) I think, when spring comes, that we should take a field trip to Mary Vaux's grave, and take some flowers...

The third pleasure--really, the center of your essay and its motivation--is the way in which you both show and then try to fill what constitutes an enormous gap in James's diary: that of the life of the woman who both enabled James's life and her writing. (That makes for quite the interesting juxtaposition both with Calamity's project, which highlights the gaps w/out filling them, and with aseidman's, which is also a "bedroom debate"!)

I enjoy the way you weave the sprightly quotations from Sontag's Alice with the rather dour ones you give Katharine, but am also quite curious about wherefrom came your sense of the latter's personality. It's hard, of course, to find the "voice" of the 19th century, but some of the words you give Katharine--"you mean the world to me"--seem decidedly cliched in a particularly 20th c. way. I'm also puzzled by the gap (tension?) between the one direct description you have of Katharine, the epigraph w/ which you open--James's description of her as hewer of wood, drawer of water, driver of run-away horses and educator "of all the women in North America"--and your own representation of her as "terrified" of Alice's run-away thoughts, of being unable to compete with James's intelligence, of finding her mind "out of reach," of wanting less melancholy and more cheerfulness in the house.

This seems not to be the woman of whom, in The House of Wits, Paul Fisher says, "an intellectual, traveled, and pragmatic resident of Boston's North Shore, Katharine had weak eyes but "'strength of wind and limb'....Harry requested a corroborating photograph. If he got one, he saw an image of an ugly but kindly-looking New Woman--the sort of unapologetic feminist or suffragist who might wear a tie in  he late nineteenth century -- a light-eyed, gaunt-faced, stern-mouthed Bostonian, with biggish ears and hair drawn sharply back ... this distinctive non-nonsense countenance .... Katharine had an iron constitution as well as in-the-trenches experiences coping w/ invalids" (376).

[I would like to see that photograph!]

In his magisterial biography of William James: In The Maelstrom of American Modernism, William Robertson says this of KPL:
"Her sight was so weak she learned Braille early on. She was a strong person... active in public health and women's educational organizations; her brothers--one a Massachusetts supreme court justice--deferred to her opinions. Katharine traveled and hiked extensively ... kept a revolver handy. "

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