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House of Wits: The Intersecting Wor(l)ds of the James Family

Anne Dalke's picture

English 271/ Bryn Mawr College/Anne Dalke
Spring Semester, 2010
MW 1-2:30,  in English House Lecture Hall

Log In   Our Class Commonplace Book    Class Notes        
Web Papers: on Alice; on Henry, on William and on 'em all..
Photos: Field Trip to Morris Woods
& Final Performances

Instructions for Preparing/Posting in the Commonplace Book;
Final Portfolio and Self-Evaluation

"In the world of James, there are no absolutes, no final truths, no static realities"
(Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros: Essays, 2005 ).

This course is conceptualized as an extended visit with one of America’s most interesting and influential families: the unruly, expansive children of Henry James, Sr. We will focus on the remarkable writings of three of them: the diarist Alice, who became a feminist icon; the great novelist Henry; and the groundbreaking psychologist and philosopher William. Attention will also be paid to contemporary representations of them and applications of their work including Susan Sontag’s play Alice in Bed and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.

In a series of linked writing projects, students will 1) contribute weekly to our on-line class commonplace book; 2) write three papers about the relationship of the work of each one of the James siblings to that of someone else; 3) create a final project examining the role of the Jameses in contemporary culture. In addition to regular postings in the on-line commonplace book, a total of twenty-four pages of writing will be required by semester’s end.

Course Requirements:

Bi-weekly attendance and participation in class
10 postings in our commonplace book kept on the world-wide web
Three 4-pp. papers, posted on-line by 5 p.m.:

    • F, 2/5: thinking aloud about Alice James in relation to....?
    • F, 3/5:  thinking aloud about Henry James in relation to...?
    • F, 4/23: thinking aloud about William James in relation to...?

5/2: Final performance

5/14: Final 12-pp. project
(what roles are the Jameses now playing in our culture, in our lives?)
portfolio and self-evaluation

A little background on and inspiration for our commonplace book:

Wikipedia: Commonplace book (as scrapbook, memory aid, clearinghouse to clarify and concentrate)
Electrasteph's Commonplace Book (as a way of memorializing striking passages)
Serious Hypertext's Notes about Notes: Commonplace book
(as a way to gain time for reflecting on the meaning and the construction of our favorite works)

Reading Schedule

W, Jan. 20 Introduction: Reading Some Images, Imagining Some Forms
Paul Fisher. Preface. House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family (2008)

S, Jan. 24 Beginning our own (shared, 21st century) commonplace book

M, Jan. 25 Susan Sontag, Alice in Bed: A Play in Eight Scenes (1992)

W, Jan. 27 The Diary of Alice James (1890-92)
Excerpts: "A Woman in Conversation with Herself"

M, Feb. 1    "
Guest visit from Kristin Lindgren of the Haverford College Writing Center

W, Feb. 3  Kristin Boudreau, "'A Barnum Monstrosity': Alice James and the Spectacle of Sympathy." American Literature, 65, 1 (March 1993): 53-67.

Henry James, "The Turn of the Screw" (1898)

Writing Conferences with Anne

5 p.m. F, Feb. 5: 4 pp. on-line reflection about the relation of Alice James to....?

M, Feb. 8  Oscar Cargill, "The Turn of the Screw and Alice James." PMLA 78, 3 (June 1963): 238-249.

Shoshana Felman, "Writing and Madness (Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis)," Yale French Studies 55-6 (1977): 94-113, 185-207.

W, Feb. 10 SNOW DAY!!!

M, Feb. 15 Henry James, “The Real Thing” (1892)

Also: bring in a contemporary version of "The Real Thing": possibilities include Kurt Anderson's 1980 collection of humorous essays; Tom Stoppard's 1982 play; albums by Bo Bice, Faith No More, Midnight Oil, PureNRG, Taj Mahal, Vanessa Williams, Marvin Gaye, Jill Scott, The Higgins, 2Unlimited, Joe Nichols; songs by ABC, Jellybean, Lisa Stansfield, Russell Morris, Tony Di Bart, Javine, Gwen Stefani, Kenny Loggins, Kingston Wall, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jame and Cypress Hill....

W, Feb. 17 Henry James, Preface and Chapters 1-14, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)

M, Feb. 22 Chapters 15-26, The Portrait of a Lady

W, Feb. 24 Chapters 27-42, The Portrait of a Lady

M, Mar. 1 Chapters 43-55, The Portrait of a Lady

W, Mar. 3  Cynthia Ozick, “The Lesson of the Master," Art and Ardor (1982) and
"What Henry James Knew,What Henry James Knew and Other Essays on Writers (1993) [username and password required]

Wai Chee Dimock, "Subjunctive Time: Henry James's Possible Wars." Narrative 17, 3 (October 2009): 242-254.

5 p.m. F, Mar. 5: 4 pp. on-line reflection
about the relation of Henry James to....?


Most the remaining readings are to be found in The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition. Ed. John J. McDermott. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1977.

From The Principles of Psychology (1890) and Psychology: Briefer Course (1892)
M, Mar. 15  "The Stream of Thought," rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 21-74.

Eugene Taylor. "Biological Consciousness and the Experience of the Transcendent: William James and American Functional Psychology." Rpt. Robert  Wozniak, "Mind and Body: Rene Déscartes to William James." Bryn Mawr College, Serendip 1995.

W, Mar. 17 "Habit," rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 9-21.

Anne Dalke. Weeding, Seeding and Place-Keeping: A Story with Three Steps and a Coda. Bryn Mawr College, Serendip. June 2007.

From The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
M, Mar. 22 
"The Will to Believe,"  rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 717-735.
From the University Chronicle (Berkeley, California, 1898)
W, Mar. 24 "Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results," rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 345-362

From The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
M, Mar. 29 "Conclusions" and Postscript," rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 758-786.
"The Ph.D. Octopus" (The Harvard Monthly, 1903).
Paul Jefferson, emeritus professor of (American intellectual) history @ Haverford, will join us for the next two classes.

W, Mar. 31 Charles S. Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief." Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877): 1-15-- in cf. w/ "The Ph.D. Octopus" and "The Will to Believe"

From Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907)
M, Apr. 5  William James, "What Pragmatism Means," rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 376-390; in cf. w/
"Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results," rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 345-362, and
Charles S. Peirce, "How to Make Our Ideas Clear." Popular Science Monthly 12 (January 1878): 286-302.

From A Pluralistic Universe (1909)
W, Apr. 7 "The Types of Philosophic Thinking"; rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 482-496.
Bharath Vallabha,
a member of the Bryn Mawr Philosophy Department specializing in "philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and philosophy of religion" will join us for
this class discussion.

M,  Apr. 12 "Hegel and his Method"; rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 512-529.

W, Apr. 14   3 diary entries (February, April, 1870),
rpt. Comprehensive Edition, 6-8.

Paths to Storytelling as Life: Fellow-Traveling with Richard Rorty

Paul Grobstein, a Bryn Mawr "neurobiologist with a life-long interest in understanding why people behave the way they do," will join us for this class, to talk about "William James from There to Here."

More Contemporary Resonances
M, Apr. 19 Gertrude Stein, "Objects." Tender Buttons. 1914;
rpt. on-line by

Dana Cairns Watson, "Modifying the Mind: William James and Tender Buttons." Gertrude Stein and the Essence of What Happens. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005.

Jacques Barzun, Prologue and "The Genius." A Stroll with William James. New York: Harper and Row, 1983. 1-5, 262-302; available @

W, Apr. 21 Louis Menand, “The Man of Two Minds,” “Brazil,” “Pragmatisms” and “Epilogue.” The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.  73-95, 140-148, 351-375, 435-442; available @

5 p.m. Fri, Apr. 23: 4 pp. on-line reflection about the relation of William James to....?

Bryn Mawr Addresses
M, Apr. 26 
William James, "The Gospel of Relaxation" (Address delivered at Bryn Mawr, 1907).

Henry James, "The Question of Our Speech" (Bryn Mawr Commencement Address, 1905).

Ursula LeGuin, Bryn Mawr Commencement Address (1986).
Drew Faust, Bryn Mawr Convocation Address (2001).

W, Apr. 28 Final Performances!!!

12:30 p.m. Fri, May 14:  12-pp. final project (on the contemporary implications of the work of the James family*), portfolio and self-evaluation due

*As inspiration, William James's words on the death of his brother: "I feel abandoned and afraid, even as a lost child. But he is a possession, of real magnitude, and I shall find myself still living upon him to the end."