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The Bostonians by Henry James
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The Bostonians (original 1886; edition 1984)

by Henry James

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1,728184,095 (3.51)88
Member:ocgreg34
Title:The Bostonians
Authors:Henry James
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The Bostonians by Henry James (1886)

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Not quite sure what to make of this. It has a few Jamesian qualities: the enormous significance of details, general tragic view of life etc... But this is surrounded by mind-numbing detail and a set of characters with uninteresting psychologies. James is at his best when he's finding the complexity in the simple. But the main characters here are a caricature of an early feminist; a caricature of a post-war Southern gent; and a girl who's a bit too good to be anything but stupid. When the characters are this one dimensional, the usual James pyrotechnics can't do their thing. It's like watching fireworks during the day.
The whole thing is very uneven. To begin with, we sympathise with the Southern gent. At the end, you want nothing so much as to kick him in the head. Did James change his mind? Is this change intentional? It's certainly infuriating. It was always obvious that Ransom (the Southerner) was a horrible human being, just as it was always obvious that Olive was at least partially good.
The final forty pages are brilliant, but the 400 or so before them are pretty tough going. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone, really. You're much better off with the other novels of this period- Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square - and, before them, The Europeans. Still, it's James. So I can't go below three stars. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I must admit I’m not a huge fan of Henry James. I can read his jewel-like short novels like “The Turn of the Screw”, but his longer works just take more patience than I have in me.

But my reading group wanted to read James, and we picked The Bostonians.

OK

Fade in on post Civil War Boston -- interior - the home of a wealthy young woman named Olive Chancellor. (She's such a prig and a priss - and a snob - that you have to look twice to see how young she really is) She is an active and passionate advocate for the rights of women and “the downtrodden”.

We meet her distant cousin Basil Ransom from Mississippi. He is a none to well off lawyer (and a "Manly Man") currently trying to make his way in New York City.

Quite by chance Olive invites Basil to a meeting at the home of a none-too-wealthy but lifelong committed activist named Miss Birdseye. There they meet a young woman named Verona who turns out to be a passionate and effective speaker for the cause of woman’s rights. (But is she just a performer - or does she really believe in it? Hmmm).

(We forget that in the days before movies and radio going to a platform lecture was a popular form of entertainment.)

Olive and Basil are each in their own ways drawn to this young lovely, and the book is basically their tug of war over her life and fate and freedom.

James was one who never used one word when twenty could do, and the book reads long. He is alternately snarky and sympathetic to the woman’s movement and its place in the Boston community.

But he writes well and with tiny elegant strokes of the brush builds up a complex portrait of this very insular society in this time and this place.

Still thinking about the ending. You will too.

Still in two minds about Henry James. But I'm not sorry we read this. ( )
  magicians_nephew | Oct 11, 2013 |
I read this book because I just moved to Boston and hoped it would give me a sense of atmosphere, which it did. I was not expecting it to be as hilarious as it was. Unfortunately the humor tones down a little bit after the first hundred pages. It starts out absolutely ruthless but then you get the sense he maybe relented a little, because after all he loves these Bostonians, doesn't he? And so do we. (Or if you don't, you might be heartless.) Anyway, as the humor starts to fade the book becomes completely gripping in a dramatic way, so it is a win-win. Have you ever had friends or maybe even people you don't like very much who, for some reason, enter your consciousness such that even their smallest gestures or off-handed comments seem extremely significant, even urgent, fraught with a kind of meaning that points way beyond themselves? That's how these characters are, I think. (Maybe all Henry James?) And I guess I could see how it could get tiresome for some people, but I disagree with them. So, anyway, I read this book on the edge of my seat and was blown away at the end. ( )
  LizaHa | Mar 30, 2013 |
Another book which just didn't work for me, and this one, I found I was often bored with it. I didn't find the appeal to the book, or to why it's considered to be such a fantastic read.

The writing was extremely well done, which was the saving factor to why I didn't give up on the book entirely. The plot was bland, and while there were some political aspects to it, I wouldn't exactly call it a political books. I didn't see a real connection to the women's movement in the book, just a handful of characters who supported it. I found the characters to be flat and underdeveloped. They didn't have much to them, and I failed to see their real connection to the women's movement. They seemed to preach about it and attend speeches, but even that felt forced to me. Although, that could be because the main focus of the book seemed to be Basil's attempt to woo Verena, who didn't seem to be anything special or worth wooing. The plot felt repetitive and it didn't connect together, and the ending was awful, although I was glad to see it.

One of my least favourite reads of the year - and not a book I'd recommend.

Also on my book review blog Jules' Book Reviews - The Bostonians ( )
  bookwormjules | Dec 30, 2012 |
Olive Chancellor, a confirmed old maid (at the age of 30), desires nothing more than to see the day when women will earn the right to vote, just as the men do. She attends many lectures and salons of Boston, listening to the great ladies of her day espousing the virtues of allowing women the right to vote and to aid in running the government. Though the talks are edifying, momentum has yet to pick up and spread the women's suffrage movement outside of a few notable cities. And then, while attending one such lecture at the home of Miss Birdseye -- one of the local leaders of the suffrage movement -- Olive hears the voice of young Verena Tarrant. Trained by her parents as a gifted speaker, Verena mesmerizes the small gathering as she speaks, and Olive realizes that Verena is just the voice she has been waiting for to lead the movement. Olive immediately conspires to take Verena under her wing and away from her parents, preparing her for a role as the new voice of the suffrage movement.

One obstacle stands in their way, though: Olive's cousin Basil Ransom, a Southerner visiting from Mississippi with the hope of beginning a law practice in Boston. He happens to be at the same salon, noticing Verena more for her looks rather than her vocal abilities. Something about her lights a fire in his heart, and he sets out to win her heart -- much to the dismay of Olive who vows to keep Verena at the forefront of the suffrage movement any way she can.

What makes the story worth reading is the characters. Olive Chancellor comes across as cold and determined, knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it. Her hold on Verena and her need to mold her into a figurehead of the suffrage movement borders on obsessive, in a Mrs. Danvers kind of way. As for Ransom, he gently laughs away the thought of women having the right to vote, burying his real feelings behind slick Southern charm, and he would like nothing more than to prove to Olive that her struggle will never succeed by making Verena his wife. Two perfectly drawn warriors, and neither is at all likeable -- which may be how James intended it. But I found some mad delight in watching the two of them try to outmaneuver one another, using Verena as the rope in their tug-of-war.

"The Bostonians" displays this struggle between the two cousins, making for an interesting battle of the sexes played out during the late 19th century. Definitely worth a read. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Dec 22, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, Charles R.Editorsecondary 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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:17 -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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