Becky's Reviews > The Bostonians

The Bostonians by Henry James
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's review
Oct 22, 08

bookshelves: classics
Read in October, 2008

i read this one for my lawyers in fiction seminar. it's a bit of a stretch to call this a novel about a lawyer, though one of the main characters is one. i suppose the most relevant connection to lawyering is the use of persuasion.

this novel's about two cousins-- olive chancellor, a wealthy feminist bostonian woman, and basil ransom, a southern conservative with strong mysogynist leanings-- who spend the entire book fighting over a young girl named verena tarrant. verena's supposedly really hot and also really good at public speaking. olive wants her so she can put her to use for the feminist movement, while basil pretty much just wants to make her his little wife. there's a lot of back-and-forth, arguing about who verena "belongs to," which is moderately creepy.

the characters are well-drawn if slightly one-dimensional-- i've read "the turn of the screw," and i've always heard about james' use of ambiguity, but the only character who showed any was olive. hard-core feminist? repressed lesbian? both? the world may never know. other good points: witty humor and quirky supporting characters. also, there are a lot of interesting meditations on the different ways to be a feminist and/or promote women's interests in the 19th century, as well as some crazy underlying north/south post-civil war tensions. i got pretty drawn into the book, even though it doesn't have much of a plot, just lots of anguished conversations and temper tantrums. maybe i just have a taste for melodrama (blame it on too much reality tv).

i have to say i was disappointed by the ending. i wanted verena to say, screw both of you, i'm gonna live my own life...but instead there was lots of woe. alas, things don't always turn out for the best. a bitter pill, but overall an enjoyable read.

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