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The Bostonians

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  6,170 ratings  ·  383 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published December 9th 2003 by Modern Library (first published 1886)
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classic reverie I am almost half way through this book & it was a movie in the 1980's & it would be a good movie to me but I never saw the 1980 movie. I think…moreI am almost half way through this book & it was a movie in the 1980's & it would be a good movie to me but I never saw the 1980 movie. I think it is a good read for a teen in a book club but it depends on the teen if they are looking for something current. This book has lots to discuss about past & current treatment of women & men.(less)

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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  6,170 ratings  ·  383 reviews

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At first glance, The Bostonians is as impenetrable as a closed circle. Everything in the story seems designed to keep the reader out. There is little action and few characters the reader can care for, and the one or two interesting ones disappear from the narrative for long stretches. The background of the story, the rise of reform movements in the US in the nineteenth century, and specifically in the 'reform city' of Boston, has great potential, but is instead obscured by the personal dilemmas ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Ransom's the name -Basil Ransom. Status, bachelor. Occupation : general brokerage, whatever the hell that means. Occupation at the moment - just having fun. Let me tell you about my evening. It was last evening. The one before this one.

What a politico-literary gathering that was. The drinks were loaded and so were the dolls. I narrowed my eyes and poured a stiff Manhattan and then I saw...Verena Tarrant! What a dame, a big, bountiful babe in the region of 38-23-36. One hell of a region. She was
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: James fans who want to see a new side of their boy!
Newsflash: Henry James is funny! Seriously, he likes to laugh. And he's good at it. Who knew? The opening of this book reads like a farce, a comedy of manners, a vicious taking apart of characters worthy of Oscar Wilde. It does diminish and get rather more serious over the course of the novel, but it never entirely goes away. Henry's vicious! In a good way. I mean, you may feel a little bad as he chooses to rip into the feminist movement as a target, but at least his chosen characters fully ...more
Joseph Spuckler
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more

I’ve never been so glad to put down an HJ. Even though this rates higher than The Europeans, I disliked it so much more, but a proper dressing down will have to wait for another day.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1800-1900, reviewed
The Bostonians (1885-86) falls more or less in the middle of Henry James’s career as a novelist, ten years after his breezy debut, Roderick Hudson and sixteen years before The Wings of a Dove. Its nearest chronology-mate is The Princess Casamassima, with which it shares its unusual (for James) political theme. The Princess Casamassima is set in revolutionary socialist circles in London; The Bostonians, in radical feminist circles in Boston and New York.

Both of these ‘political’ novels are
MJ Nicholls
Verena Tarrant, a talented mouthpiece for whoever’s views, falls in with rabid proto-feminist sourpuss Olive Chancellor and her circle of female-emancipating spinsters, much to the mirth of her crooked parents. Into this awkward tableau walks Mississippian antihero Basil Ransom, a classic republican who prefers his women shutting up and looking cute in corsets and praising the thickness of his whiskers. Across the sprawl of this incisive and engorged masterpiece, the power dynamic between the ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this on audible while driving to & from work -- it took awhile, but the book allows itself to be 'read' in chunks. The story is certainly a bit too long (typically Jamesian, I guess), often melodramatic -- but, in the end, quite good. Magnficent characters -- Verena, Olive, Basil...

The audible was narrated by a woman named Xe Sands - pronounced 'ex-y Sands'. she specializes in reading audible erotic romances -- so I guess 'Xe' is not chinese; probably her real name is Mildred
Mar 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tiffani Amber Thiessen
Shelves: own, fiction

I found The Bostonians repulsive on so many levels. Where to even begin...

James is creating a world where it seems he wants you to find certain things repulsive, and you do, as a 21st century reader, although not necessarily quite as he hopes. The novel opens with Basil Ransom, a gallant Mississippian, paying a visit to his Boston cousin, the austere but still young spinster Olive Chancellor. Olive has invited Basil north in the hopes that he will become interested in her widowed sister, Mrs.
Cymru Roberts
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So you call yourself a SJ-Dubya, do ye? And you haven’t read Henry James, you say? ‘Aven’t read Los Bostonians, and you brag about being a well-read liberal from the Northeast? Leave it out, m8, really, because you’re takin the piss.

Not that you should feel lonesome in your distaste (distrust?) for all thangs HJ. The Bostonians took an absolute hammering from the critical establishment upon its release. Here are some tidbits I found on the internet (and yeah, I know, it aint so studious to cite
Roman Clodia
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
' "Just sit down here and let me ask a simple question. Do you think any state of society can come to good that is based upon an organised wrong?" '

This book, somewhat unfairly, has a reputation as being James' satire on the early suffragette/feminist movement in 1880s Boston - I say unfairly because while it's without doubt poking lots of pointed fun at a lot of things, I don't think the question of giving women an equal education, vote and social voice is one of them. And, just to back up a
Aug 18, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
A shallow portrayal of pathetic people caught up in the selfish advancement of their own interests. Two self-absorbed individuals vie for the affections of and control over an enchanting prophetess. As with many of Henry James works, this one also focuses on the movement afoot in the late 1800s regarding the emancipation of women. The substance of the movement is not discussed, only the forces vying for control. I found no great cause, no great plot, no great character development, no great ...more
Mike Lindgren
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
Glenn Bowlan
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
A claustrophobic and tedious book that has little to offer the casual reader, this is a still-life of a novel with almost no plot, drama, or humor. Olive, Verena and Basil are drawn with microscopic attention to detail, but they are boring narcissistic characters with few illuminating qualities.

Miss Birdseye is the only vibrant character in the whole novel. The exchanges between her and Mr. Ransom are interesting and entertaining. There are exactly 4 such scenes.

Before starting the novel, I
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
This is one of those books i’ll continue to ruminate on and most likely decide my thinking was awry, maybe often. I have a difficult time believing Verena - i guess what i mean is suspending my disbelief for her. How anyone could live a couple of decades and apparently not develop any predilections, any thoughts of her own, even about herself? She is presented as a pure vessel (empty?) gifted with a divine afflatus of enthusiasm, and the capacity to engage any audience.

“The worst of the case
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Ugh, this was really unpleasant, and actually upsets me—I really like some of Henry James’s other books (especially Wings of a Dove, though I also loved Portrait of a Lady), but this one left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Someone wrote, of the characters in this book, that “He [Henry James] does not love them. Why should he ask more of us?” And it’s the best summary of the book I can cite.

Basil is awful. Just AWFUL. Verena is . . . fine, I guess, but ends up being rather pathetic. Olive isn’
classic reverie
I loved this story and the thought provoking battle of the sexes written before suffrage. Wonderfully written. Henry James is a wonderful writer.

--This is my third novel that I have had the pleasure reading by Henry James & I was absolutely drawn into this story. I first heard about him many years ago when I had heard that the movie "The Heiress" was based on his novel Washington Square. This movie is a favorite of mine & Olivia de Havilland was so expressive playing the dowdy young old
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
This was an interesting novel to read. In all honesty it was serious step down from the masterpiece that precedes it, i.e., The Portrait of a Lady. Having said that though, I think James perhaps intended this book to be lighter fare than Portrait. In fact, The Bostonians is loaded with satire, irony, and a goodly number of comedic moments. The novel's plot revolves around two cousins, Olive Chancellor and Basil Ransom, and the relationship that each desires to have with a young red-headed woman ...more
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Bostonians was not Henry James's most popular book. When it came time to put together the New York Edition of his collected works, he deliberately left it out. I can understand why: the three main characters are all flawed, especially the bitter spinster Olive Chancellor, a kind of proto-Lesbian manhater.

Even when he is not at his best, James is always interesting. The Bostonians is about a Southern gentleman (Basil Ransom) of conservative views pursuing a young feminist speaker named Verena
Nazirah Idris
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
My impression in very few words: Charming Southern asshole falls in love with pretend-feminist who is docile yet innocent (possibly with big tits). He then steals her away from her lesbian spinster best friend in the middle of them fighting for women's suffrage.

Quite entertaining. Consciously sexist though.
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Gonna stop reading and get out while I can. Silly me for thinking a satire of the women's rights movement would be cleverly written and not a shallow portrayal of feminism. Also: edit, James.
Aug 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
James is so sharp and mean in this – it’s not what I expected at all, and I kind of loved it. The story is set post-Civil War and concerns the women’s rights movement of the time. Olive Chancellor is a frigid, yet highly emotional, spinster who is obsessed with the idea of women’s suffering and oppression. She takes up a begrudging acquaintance with her Mississippian cousin Basil Ransom, who is the perhaps the least ridiculous of the three principle characters, despite being cast as the ...more
Justin Evans
Aug 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
Dec 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Bostonians, funnies, spinsters, people who don't know what's good for them but wish they did
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 ...more
Tor McIver
Mar 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nut Meg
I'm not usually one to complain about a dearth of likable characters, but I have to admit that was the main problem with this book. James writes beautifully, as always, but the story becomes something of a chore without anyone to root for. The hero, Basil has the kind of condescending charm that quickly begins to irritate, and any sympathy for his rival Olive is undermined by her unforgiving and holier-than-thou attitude. Finally, the woman they're fighting over, Verena, a slip of a woman with a ...more
Apr 13, 2008 added it
I loved the descriptions of place--the unfilled Back Bay in Boston, ramshackle tenements in German Manhattan, grass growing in disused shipyards on the Cape. But the main characters are hard to enjoy. Boston feminist Olive is all angry propaganda, her conservative Southern cousin Basil is all sentimental claptrap. My copy bills the book as addressing "the woman question," but social reform is only a backdrop to Olive and Basil's rivalry. I was also struck by the rootlessness of the ...more
What a fascinating story of women's emancipation and liberation, combined with the desire to love and be loved. One man is driven to love and he sees that the love of his life will slip through his hands if he does not stop the madness of his cousin's claim on his love's time for a cause, a strong power of persuasion and a pull from both sides. Can a woman be in love, and be free? Can there be liberation and marriage? These were the questions of the day that Henry James wanted to address and to ...more
This early novel of James's is an archly comedic, wry study of post-Civil War (white) gender politics in the U.S., rooted in the conflict between a misogynist Southern gentleman and a Boston lesbian (unstated but clear) feminist over a very attractive probably bisexual redhead with remarkable powers of speech. Can't get over how funny this was, so full of shade! Read/discussed via Skype book club with Liza.
Chris Black
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
A frustrated/extremely possessive lesbian feminist and a provincial/ambitious/obnoxious/relentless southerner compete for the absolute (and I mean absolute, these people do not understand the meaning of "casual") love of a charming (yet weak) young girl. Who wins? Well, the patriarchy, of course.
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the ...more
“Wherever you go, madam, it will matter little what you carry. You will always carry your goodness.” 6 likes
“Miss Chancellor would have been much happier if the movements she was interested in could have been carried on only by people she liked,and if revolutions, somehow, didn't always have to begin with one's self--with internal convulsions,sacrifices,executions.” 4 likes
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