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The Bostonians (1886)

by Henry James

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,271264,675 (3.56)110
This brilliant satire of the women's rights movement in America is the story of the ravishing inspirational speaker Verena Tarrant and the bitter struggle between two distant cousins who seek to control her. Will the privileged Boston feminist Olive Chancellor succeed in turning her beloved ward into a celebrated activist and lifetime companion? Or will Basil Ransom, a conservative southern lawyer, steal Verena's heart and remove her from the limelight? ""The Bostonians" has a vigor and blithe wit found nowhere else in James," writes A. S. Byatt in her Introduction. "It is about idealism in a democracy that is still recovering from a civil war bitterly fought for social ideals . . . Ýwritten¨ with a ferocious, precise, detailed--and wildly comic--realism."… (more)



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» See also 110 mentions

English (23)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
The part where Olive literally buys Verena from her father, for use in the cause of emancipating women, showed me a quite startling sense of humor on the part of the author.
  jjmiller50fiction | Apr 18, 2020 |
Read this in the 1970s, and remembered liking it. This time around, I read it with a more critical eye. First thing I realize it that this book was published first in serial form, which explains how the story, which is really very simple, just goes on and on. You see how James is making fun of feminists, Boston spinsters, and post-Reconstruction southerners. But the mystery is: why is anyone so taken with Verena? Because she's such a beautiful vessel into which others can pour their thoughts and opinions, I guess. The way Basil Ransom pursues Verena is improbable, but the outcome is not, I expect, even today. It just would have made a better short story. I think if I were going to reread Henry James, whose work I very much liked, overall, I might have picked a better book to start with. I guess I'm just partial to anything having to do with Boston. ( )
  fromthecomfychair | Apr 11, 2020 |
Henry James’ The Bostonians takes place in Boston a decade after the Civil War. Basil Ransom and Mississippian and a former Confederate officer who now works in New York City as a lawyer plays a central role in the triangle of characters. The story begins as he visits his cousin Olive Chancellor in Boston. Olive is involved in the women’s rights movement and a member of Boston Society. During his visit, he attends a meeting with his cousin and falls in love with the voice of the speaker, Verena Tarrant. Olive sees Verena as the future of the women’s movement. Basil, disagrees with Verena’s politics but is drawn to her. Olive and Basil compete for Verena throughout the novel. The triangle that forms is not strictly platonic.

The Bostonians and Henry James not only provides a bridge from realism to modernism it also opened the door for other works like The Well of Loneliness. It is also the origin of the term “Boston marriage”. The book did not fair well with American critics as it was suggested the characters were based off real people. Written as satire, the book holds up well today, and maybe better than it was received at publication. The exaggerated character of Basil seems to be something of a caricature of a rich southerner and likewise Olive that of a highbrow Yankee.

The Dover Thrift Edition of this work is a quality paperback for $7.00 and less than a dollar Kindle ebook. For those interested in historical satire and over the top characters this is the book for you. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
Overly long, and yet not much happens. I did like the descriptions of old Boston, though. ( )
  ErinMa | Feb 22, 2019 |
Another step in the slow accretion of my lifelong project of reading the major novels and stories. The Bostonians -- maddening, thrilling, vexing, and troublesome -- illustrates again the principle that at its very highest levels fiction operates upon the reader in a messy and unpredictable way. As I write this, I am about to go to the "Great Books" discussion group at the Yale Club, which typically comprises late middle-aged women and me -- my peeps, in other words -- and which is always enlightening and amusing. It is difficult to predict how this novel's jarring and in some ways deeply unsatisfying denouement, its stern fictional renunciation of basic gender equality, and its portrayal of three fundamentally flawed and not very likable characters will sit with a sampling of contemporary readers. These elements, to my mind, are symptomatic of what I consider to be James's basic toughness -- not a word usually associated with him, obviously -- which manifests in his refusal to oblige the reader with neat and satisfying endings, or to soften the remorselessness of his satire. These are the operations of genius. ( )
  MikeLindgren51 | Aug 7, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Set in the period after the Civil War, among the abolitionists, who are now—it's 1875—turning their energies to the emancipation of women, it's a wonderful, teeming novel, with darting perceptions. It's perhaps the most American of James's novels—not just because it is set here but because all the characters are Americans, and because Boston, with its quacks and mystics, its moral seriousness and its dowdiness, is contrasted with New York's frivolous "society" and the South's conservatism...

It's the liveliest of his novels, maybe because it has sex right there at the center, and so it's crazier—riskier, less controlled, less gentlemanly—than his other books. He himself seems to be pulled about, identifying with some of the characters and then rejecting them for others. I think it is by far the best novel in English about what at that time was called "the woman question," and it must certainly be the best novel in the language about the cold anger that the issue of equal rights for women can stir in a man. I first read the book when I was in my early twenties, and it was like reading advance descriptions of battles I knew at first hand; rereading it, some forty years later, I found it a marvelous, anticipatory look at issues that are more out in the open now but still unresolved.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe New Yorker, Pauline Kael

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James, HenryAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, Charles RobertsEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lansdown, RichardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Olive will come down in about ten minutes; she told me to tell you that."
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Le bostoniane possiede la crudele, paurosa bellezza della verità.
Antonio Lombardo
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Average: (3.56)
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2 22
2.5 6
3 77
3.5 13
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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