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Jean Strouse (1) (1945–)

Author of Morgan: American Financier

For other authors named Jean Strouse, see the disambiguation page.

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About the Author

A journalist and general editor at Newsweek, Strouse has written a biography of Alice James, the sister of Henry and William James, that one critic observed to be "more than a biography, a complicated work of social history." In Alice James: A Biography (1980), Strouse presents James as a show more potentially brilliant woman who was emotionally crippled by the conventions of nineteenth-century society. Denied the opportunities available to her brothers, Alice "made a career of emotional collapse." The biography won the Bancroft Prize in American history and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Jean Strouse

Associated Works

Complete Stories: 1864-1874 (1999) — Editor; Editor — 278 copies
The Outcry (1911) — Introduction, some editions — 201 copies


Common Knowledge

Country (for map)
Places of residence
New York, New York, USA
Radcliffe College (BA)
Newsweek book critic, 1979-1983



Pierpont Morgan was a fascinating person. Born in 1837 he lived through the period when the US exploded into a manufacturing giant, and more than living through it, he was an important part of it.

This book focuses on three aspects of Pierpont's life: His business life, his relations to women and his art collecting.

Sadly, the sources seems to be thin in all areas so those few sources that exist get a lot of focus in the book. This includes the diary of his second life and the letters of his gossipy library manager.

It could have been different. His closest confidant was his father and the father, Junius, saved all letters in several leather bound volumes. When Pierpont saw them, he burned them. He seems to have been reluctant to having anyone judge him all through his life.

But still, there is enough to say quite a bit as this 1000 page book shows.

Born as son to the banker Junius Morgan, Pierpont is a rare example of a very successful person being followed by an even more successful child.

From early years Pierpont was groomed for a life in international banking. His father sent him abroad to learn other languages and build connections but abroad he also picked up a love of anything cultural or old.

In all his life he combined working in New York or London, the financial centers of the world, with travels to Egypt, Italy, France or other cultural locations.

As so many other successful people, Pierpont combined an intense self-doubt, with a strong belief in his own ability. It is a combination that seems to make some people work really hard. In the case of Pierpont Morgan he also seems to have been able to get other to work hard. The stress caused a lot of people around him to have breakdowns. Personally he solved the stress problem for most of his life by being abroad for 4 months per year.

In his personal life, he seems to have been, since he was a young kid, strongly attracted to women. In surviving letters, he kept complimenting women around him. Unfortunately his love life hit a major disaster early on when his first wife, Memie, died in TBC just a couple of months after the wedding.

Three years later Pierpont married Fanny, a marriage that seems to have been an unqualified disaster. Pierpont being extremely social while Fanny "preferred a quieter, more domestic life". The logistical solution was that they were rarely at the same continent. While Pierpont worked in New York, Fanny was at spas in Europe or in the London house. As Fanny made her way back over the Atlantic, Pierpont went to Europe.

The book instead talks about his female travel companions, implying strongly that two or three of them were his mistresses for decades at a time. That was clearly true at an intellectual level though whether it was also carnal, the book leaves to the reader's imagination.

Despite Pierpont and Fanny rarely being near each other they had 4 children. The first, Lousia, Pierpont's favourite, became his travel companion for a long time, most of the time keeping quiet about Pierpont's other women. The second, Jack, was groomed as Pierponts successor as Pierpont himself had been groomed by his father Junius, but not nerely as successful. Pierpont was a better pupil than teacher.

But the big question is, what made Pierpont so special that people read about him 150 years later? Beyond accumulating massive amounts of money (though less than people thought), he was also a powerful personality that could unite the country's wealthy elite in times of trouble. Several times through his life, the US economy, lacking a central bank, lacking macroeconomic understanding, faced imminent collapse when Pierpont using his own fortune and connections stabilized the economy. Most of the time he came out richer than he started which added to his power as well as others respect, envy and fear.

In his later life he used almost all the money he had to build massive collections of art and old items, and to build beautiful buildings. Everything the European aristocracy had collected over centuries, he was willing to buy and there were plenty of sellers.

Some of what he bought ended up in his personal collections, some he donated to museums or the original owner. Sadly his massive collection disbursed after he died, but parts of it can be found at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

During his last couple of years he was the target of a lot of public attacks on him and his business dealings. People in general were fed up with how certain people became ludicrously rich, especially if done through monopolies and trusts. Rockefeller, Carnegie, the Vanderbilts were the main drivers of that, but for all their empire building they needed money, and Pierpont Morgan was one of the few that could provide the necessary amounts when huge companies were created. This gave Pierpont Morgan power through direct ownership (the bank always takes a share when it funnels resources) but also by having bank representatives installed as directors in every important bank.

At the same time, people that knew him seems to have trusted him. American presidents, like Theodore Roosevelt, took his advice and relied on Pierpont when there was a crisis, while they at the same time attacked other "robber barons".

The summary in the book is that it was lucky Pierpont was a good man because that power would have been bad in anyone else's hands. And that no individual should ever have that much power again.

I find it a bit hard to grade books like this since it takes reading multiple biographies about the same person to understand what the book omits or emphasises. I will not do that, So instead I have to look at it as a literary work, and then this book is mostly easy to read but also includes chapters that could be removed, and lists so many names that it takes a notebook by the side to keep track of everyone. I am happy I read it and I learned a lot so I'm giving it four stars but I also feel like there are many pieces of the puzzle missing.
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bratell | 4 other reviews | Dec 25, 2020 |
He did not claim that “woman” was incapable of learning and wisdom, but that they did not “become” her: as man’s spiritual superior, she should consent to rule him by letting him please her. But she was not man’s intellectual equal, and needed him to tell her (as Henry Sr. does in this article) about her true nature and duty…She was above all a “form of personal affection…Her aim in life is…simply to love and bless man.”

He came to the conclusion that selfish pleasure incurred punishment, and that suffering brought love. And he passed both those notions along to his own children.

If ideas had no power, we'd have no use for alcohol and politics. Here we have the biography of a woman, part and parcel of an upper class 19th century family beloved by the echelons of literature, and events fall out as expected. Maybe not for the men with their thousands of disposable income, their boundless paternal encouragement towards a career that was not for the money, their ability to theorize and move their family across continents multiple times in order to experiment on their children for the sake of said theories. Their lives were always theirs for the taking.

James [Sr.] wanted to triumph over his own selfishness by loving his children the way a mother would; but a mother did it by nature, not by choice. She was at once all virtue and no virtue, since she did not have to struggle to be good. Struggle, the essence of manhood, marked the path to divinity. Woman, therefore — mindless, selfless, naturally virtuous — was of no real account.

Alice James, a woman in the house of cosmopolitan delights. Sexually objectified by the eldest brother William, sanctified by the second eldest Henry, let alone by the two less famous of the four James' boys. All of them suffered under their father's solipsistic benevolence, his breed of pedagogy both anarchical and naive, nauseating freedom with puritanical focus that kept their intelligent minds ignorant of evil until they were let loose as adults to find a meaning of life. All suffered through mental breakdowns and crises of conscience of various intensities, but it is one thing to do so in the midst of self-assertion and institutional guidance at a distance, and quite another to live with the source that could only be escaped via submission to another.

Alice was fighting for self-control and for a strengthening sense of moral responsibility. In placing blame on an external "diabolical influx" at war with her pristine soul, her father's exonerating analysis took responsibility and control out of her hands.

Alice described wanting to “knock off the head of the benignant pater as he sat with his silver locks, writing at his table.” She disguised this murderous wish thinly, with compliments and jokes, and slipped it into her narrative as a casual aside. She could not turn the towering rage that comes through in her writing even twenty years after the experience itself against the kind father who had so blithely stimulated and thwarted her. Instead, she turned the full force of her fury on herself, making herself literally ill.

My previous experience with the infamous James' lies solely in a reading of [The Turn of the Screw] that did not end well, so rather than coming to this book in an effort to extend a long-running edifice of knowledge ever further, I came looking for a kindred spirit. My instincts weren't wrong, for the line of Dickinson-Woolf-Plath trails as long as the history of the patriarchy, and it is sickeningly easy to follow the breadcrumbs to yet another brilliant soul that made do with a toothpick while others fended freely with swords. What is special about these particular crumbs was the holistic approach of this book, one that did not flinch away from combining the assertions of the subject with the observations of the many around her, splicing movements of both history and thought into a story of times that were 'a-changin', told in such a way that one could feel it in the marrow. One could use the term 'objectivity', but I much prefer the credit Strouse gave to Alice for her life that took neither the form of infantilizing pedestal nor androcentric condemnation, but as erudite an empathy that there can be.

At the age of fourteen, she had concluded that life for her meant renunciation, a sort of spiritual suicide…

It was as if she ceded her body to the “feminine” principle of frailty and submission, while cultivating with her mind a “masculine” strength and indifference to pain.

Throughout 1887 and 1888, Alice kept a collection of quotes that lay akin to her own views. It wasn't until 1889, age 41 and four years before her death, that she began her diary, finding her "voice", as it were. I am further along at age 22 than she ever was in terms of feminism and political consciousness, but I have had both education and the Internet. Despite those differences, what she has to say in regards to nervous disorders, colonialism, and melding care for one's life with moral statutes in an immoral world are of great worth to me.

In her attitude toward her own suffering, Alice was in the process of finding a plot of moral ground on which to stand. She did have a choice about how to bear what she could not change...she wanted to learn not "forgetfulness" but rather "a certain fortitude — how to live and hold up one's head even while knowing that things were very bad. A brazen indifference...”

“Ever since I have been ill, I have longed and longed for some palpable disease, no matter how conventionally dreadful a label it might have, but I was always driven back to stagger alone under the monstrous mass of subjective sensations, which that sympathetic being ‘the medical man’ has had no higher inspiration than to assure me I was personally responsible for.”

Finding a way to think and speak for herself was, for Alice, her life’s highest aim.

I've heard mournful stories told of the advent of the digital age meaning the death of letter writing, the end of the paper trails scholars so love to dig through in search of the core of their dead patrons. While I am grateful to biographies such as these that do their subjects respect to the utmost, I hope for a day when the words of others are given more value when they are alive than when they are available for exhumation. Alice wished her diary to be published; let no one living today share her fate.

The diary made a start. In deciding to speak up at last, to articulate her life, Alice announced that private experience had inherent value, and that she had something to say about it. She was finding in the process of keeping a diary a nascent sense of self, much as William had one in determining that his first act of free will would be to believe in free will. Less assertively than William, less deliberately than Henry, Alice was taking hold of the reins at last.
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Korrick | 2 other reviews | Aug 29, 2014 |
I found this well written and engaging. I am looking forward to the Chernow book, after looking at what the other reviewers had to say. Pierpont was a fascinating individual and seems pretty unique in his age.
1 vote
Whiskey3pa | 4 other reviews | Oct 4, 2013 |
This comprehensive book about the insightful but often thwarted Alice James, the lone daughter in the family that included novelist Henry James and psychologist and philosopher William James, shines a bright light on the post-Civil War/pre-suffrage lives of women born into educated New England households. The Civil War created a surplus of women in Massachusetts; there were almost 50,000 more women than men in 1870 and by 1880 that number had increased to 66,000. Naturally, many of these women were unable to marry, and scores of them, inspired by the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe, turned to writing popular novels. Though disparaged by the admirers of Transcendentalists like Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne, literature by women had a large almost captive audience of disenfranchised females.

When her diaries were published after her death Alice was celebrated as a talented writer but she was not one of the new female novelists. Alice was never expected, encouraged or often even allowed to do much of anything at all. During this era there seemed to be an epidemic of women suffering “nervous disorders”, and their number included Alice, because in spite of her excellent mind for much of her life she had no real work to do. Her father, Henry James Sr., was wild and unmanageable in his youth, rebelling against his strict religious father, and he was generally forward thinking as an adult, providing a rich environment for his children that helped nourish his oldest sons’ abilities, but there was a dichotomy in his thinking because he could only be so progressive based on his upbringing and the age he lived in. He believed women were superior to men and meant to be admired and emulated, but because of that they were uninteresting, had no need of education or cultivation, and needed to be protected. Growing up in this situation Alice spent much of her life at war with herself, and her health suffered.

This is not a downer of a book, however, because Alice ultimately does find a place for herself in the world as it was, and it’s fascinating to have an intimate glimpse of the lives of women in the late 1800’s and the and early family years of Henry and William James. Alice James: A Biography also provides many opportunities for further reading if you are interested. I haven’t been able to find a source for the diaries of Alice James, but the background information about William and Henry James inspired me to read or reread at their writing, and then there is also all those female novelists, whose work can often be downloaded as e-books at sites like Project Gutenberg.
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1 vote
Jaylia3 | 2 other reviews | Nov 28, 2011 |



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