What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper

Just who was Jack the Ripper? It is 1888 and this novel opens with a dinner party with a cast of very real characters from history all discussing just who Jack the Ripper may actually be. Author Henry James is inebriated, but enjoys the conversation around the table with Robert Browning, Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain), George duMaurier, John Singer Sargent and Oscar Wilde. It's as though the author took the question of who would you like to dine with and built a fascinating mystery around it.
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What was so much fun in this work was discovering that William James, the brother of Henry James, was a noted psychologist who actually did explore the question of who was this murderer lurking around London? He was asked by Scotland Yard to come to London to see if he could figure out the mind of a killer due to his research.

In addition, Alice, the sister remained in the home because of her unspecified illness. She worried about her brother, Henry, who was prone to drinking, thinking his path would cross with Jack the Ripper's and meeting his demise. (At one point, this seems like it was quite possible since Henry was harmed by someone he did not see in the dark of night.) She also tries to gather details in order to help find this madman before he gets his next victim. Alice is mostly bedridden, but is bright and intelligent, and wants to solve this mystery. (In actual research of this woman, it turns out that she was prone to what was often defined for the time as “hysteria.”)

Even though they work together to figure out whom the criminal is, there is a rivalry between Henry and William that adds to the fun of this book while it seems that it was based on actual friction between the brothers.

The author does a fantastic job of building the scenes and providing details that make one feel as though they are in the heart of London during this time in history. We don't know to this day who the actual Jack the Ripper was, at least there is no conclusive evidence, but for this work, we are given a possibility.
Best part of story, including ending: I loved that the author used very real people from that era to show how they wanted to discover who Jack the Ripper was.

Best scene in story: When Henry gets into the carriage, but is knocked out. It leaves the reader believing that Ripper was trying to hinder the investigation.

Opinion about the main character: I liked that reading Henry James in a fictional context made me want to learn more about him in reality.

The review of this Book prepared by Carol Hoenig a Level 3 Eurasian Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 20%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 60%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 10%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 10% Tone of story    -   Dry-cynical How difficult to spot villain?    -   Difficult, but some clues given Time/era of story:    -   1600-1899 What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   80% Misc. Murder Plotlets    -   solving long-past murder    -   Big focus on forensic evidence    -   Big focus on autopsies Kind of investigator    -   psychiatrist investigator Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Any non-mystery subplot?    -   feelings towards family/friends Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   writer Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   British


Europe    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   moderately detailed references to deaths Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Paula Marantz Cohen Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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