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The Bostonians by Henry James
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The Bostonians (1886)

by Henry James

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English (20)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
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 |
This is the second Henry James that I have read. While both Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians left me feeling very unhappy, I was also much disturbed by the latter. Everything about it, the way the author deals with the subject of feminism if not lesbianism, the way the characters evolve, the complexity of the motives of the three main characters, were all perturbing.
It is to Henry James’ credit that he is the first serious writer to deal with both feminism as well as lesbianism. Though it is never explicitly expressed as a lesbian affair, certainly Olive’s feelings to Verena cross the bounds of friendship. Her desolation and despair at the loss of her friend is such that I would use Eliot’s term for Hamlet’s predicament--there is no objective correlative. However, we can understand his reticence in depicting it more openly. But his attitude to feminism seems to be hostile. He mocks the movement. He doesn’t give ‘the woman question’ the relevance it deserves. The feminists are not painted sympathetically. The author seems to be suspecting their motives and their efforts are treated as silly. Of course, the clincher is that Ransom is allowed to abduct Verena just before her grand entrance on the stage of public life.
The characters are disappointing, to say the least. They are unable to transcend through their tribulations, on the contrary they sink. Not a very inspiring bunch, though I did want better for Olive. Of the three main characters she is the most complete. She is socially on a higher plane, and she is a snob. She had to suffer for showing hubris. She is driven by strong feelings of anger and resentment against men, backed by a deep understanding of women’s lives under patriarchy. She is an extreme case, determined to suffer, hating men and finding them at fault at all times, and revengeful too. But she herself is relentless. What she fights against in the male-female equation, she inflicts on Verena. Her hold over the latter may not be as harsh, but it is stifling all the same. She attempts to put Verena in the same kind of prison that she wants to liberate women from. She is a possessive woman and must have stifled Verena with her solicitude.
Verena is the most easily understood. She’s young and at the threshold of life, eager to grasp the opportunities offered by joining Olive’s campaign. She just has very pretty looks, and a golden voice. She basically becomes Olive’s mouthpiece, and uses her looks and her voice to mesmerise her audiences. But her convictions about the feminist cause are still unformed. I don’t blame her for abandoning the cause. Love and sexual passion have the power to deflect even the most hardened campaigner from her objectives. And we shouldn’t forget that these ideas about womens’ emancipation must have been radical and difficult to comprehend in the early days of the movement. After all, men’s emancipation from the nobility in France, or the emancipation of blacks in the U.S, could be achieved only through bloody revolutions, since these notions too were very radical. So I’m willing to forgive Verena her betrayal of the cause. Of course there’s no doubt that Verena’s living with Ransom will very likely allow her to experience the sufferings of women’ at first hand. That is what the last sentence in the book promises.
Ransom’s motives are almost sub-terranean, at the deepest sub conscious levels. He is drawn towards Verena for her looks and her voice, just as everyone else is, but equally by vengeance against Olive, and also as a re-afffirmation of the southern way of life, which had received a battering barely 10 years earlier in the Civil War. I really admire Henry James for the way he plays with readers’ emotions. Ransom is initially shown as a chivalrous young southerner struggling to make ends meet. His meeting with Mrs. Luna at the Burrages’ where Verena’s debut is to happen, is one of the best scenes in the novel. The tension created in the reader is quite unbearable. We want him to be able to listen to Verena and hate Mrs. Luna for holding him back. Yet by the end of the book, when its clear that the battle is between Olive / Verena on the one hand and Ransom on the other, our sympathies are entirely with the ladies. James metamorphosises him from a chivalrous protector of women, to a predator. It’s done so well, and so subtly that it catches the reader unawares.
This is a complex book written in Henry James wonderful style and use of language. It is haunting. I wanted more for Olive. Hopefully she is able to step onto the podium of public life and take over the mantle thrown aside by Verena. ( )
1 vote kumariprabhu | Mar 17, 2018 |
Interesting piece of historical fiction about the American civil war and the feminist movement. Apart from that, you are left puzzled by what Henry James could be driving at, with such an ending in a book about the feminist movement. Is he mocking men or women when Verena chose Basil, and yet she would not be happy as James alluded? Perhaps he was trying to say that we must each be responsible for our actions, and the consequences they bring. ( )
  siok | Jul 8, 2017 |
Not an easy read by any means but timely and the book is written in 1886. ( )
  charlie68 | Feb 8, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (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 (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812969960, Paperback)

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 . . . [written] with a ferocious, precise, detailed—and wildly comic—realism.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:49 -0400)

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"The story of the ravishing inspirational speaker Verena Tarrant and the bitter struggle between two distant cousins who seek to control her."--P. [4] of cover.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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