Genius and Neurosis Closely Allied: The James Family

Moderator: Jim Averill
Time: Wednesdays, 10:00 am-noon
Place: UMass Transit Facility, Commonwealth Avenue, Amherst
Parking: Parking in adjacent Lot 45; directions will be given

In this seminar we will examine the life and times of the James family, with particular emphasis on the philosophy of William and the novels of Henry, Jr.

Henry James, Sr. was an original religious thinker and social pundit. He and his wife Mary (“the keystone of the arch”) had five children: the psychologist/philosopher, William; the novelist, Henry, Jr.; two younger brothers, Garth and Robertson, who were civil-war heroes but mostly failures in their subsequent endeavors; and Alice, the only daughter. Suffering from chronic “neurasthenia,” Alice was confined to bed much of her adult life. Nevertheless, she has become an icon of the feminist movement. We will explore the dynamics of the family as a whole as well as the contributions of each member individually.

Format: Seminar

Role of participants: Prepare a report and lead a discussion on a member of the James family and his or her contributions; alternatively, identify a condition or trait that recurs across generations and among siblings (e.g., depression, alcoholism, anxiety attacks) that illustrates the potential interplay between genius and neurosis, heredity and environment. The moderator will provide a list of potential topics and readings; however, participants are encouraged to select favorite works or topics not on the list, subject to feedback from the moderator.

Number of participants (including the moderator): 18

Resources: Before the start of the seminar all participants are asked to read the book, House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family, by Paul Fisher (2008). Separate biographies are also available on nearly every member of the family. In addition to family dynamics, a major focus of the seminar will be on original works by William and Henry, Jr.

Additional readings will be suggested depending on the topics selected by participants.

The Moderator: Jim Averill has a background in psychology and philosophy, and long has had an interest in the James family, their quirks and brilliance.