‘The Bostonians’ by Henry James

504 p.  1886

When in Boston, read The Bostonians, I thought- especially as I already had it on my e-reader and didn’t want to buy paper-based books while I was away. As it happened, it was much longer than I anticipated, and I was still going on it in New York (and even London!) but that suited me fine as it had quite a long section on New York as well.  His descriptions of Boston, Harvard University and New York were evocative, and enhanced my enjoyment of my sightseeing.

So as location-literature, it worked quite well but I’m not so sure that it worked so well as a novel for me.  The plotline revolves around Basil Ransom, a young Southern gentleman, who falls in love with a young feminist orator Verena Tarrant who becomes increasingly under the influence of his cousin, an older, more ardent feminist, Olive Chancellor.  Who and what is the beautiful Verena going to choose: the high moral fervour of the feminist cause, or the romance of the attractive, masculine Basil?  The final third or so of the book teeters on this decision, and a long drawn-out decision it is too.

There is a snideness to James’ approach to Olive Chancellor, who is, it must be admitted a rather unattractive character, and to feminism in general.  I didn’t ever get a particularly good grasp on the politics that Verena espoused, or Verena herself for that matter, beyond an image of her as a golden creature who somehow mesmerized audiences with her oratory.  The relationship between Verena and the older Olive hints at lesbianism, although this probably could not have been explicated further at the time.  The shadowy feminism that bound the women together is presented as little better than charlatanism or some kind of semi-religious mass delusion.

It is a long book, and it felt even longer when I was reading it on in snatches, and on an e-reader with only a vague sense of how much further there was to go: an aspect of e-reading that I don’t particularly enjoy.  I found myself just wishing she’d make up her mind already, and then felt rather annoyed with her final decision anyway.

My rating: 7/10

Reason read: Because I was there!

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