The Bostonians (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Bostonians (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082970
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 05/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 62,799
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England

Education:

Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

Read an Excerpt


From Siri Hustvedt’s Introduction to The Bostonians

In the novel, two ideologies and two people are pitted against each other. In its simplest terms, the book presents us with a conflict between a reformer and a reactionary, between a triumphant North and a defeated South, between a woman and a man. The Bostonians is a novel of ideas, but the ideas articulated by James’s two battling characters, who are also distant cousins—Olive Chancellor, a Boston spinster and champion of women’s rights, and Basil Ransom, a bitter archconservative from Mississippi—are not the ideas the book probes. Indeed, both characters are guilty of mouthing sentimental or clichéd tripe, and I don’t think their creator was terribly interested in their beliefs per se. He was drawn by something infinitely more complex than a conflict between two hardened ideological positions. Like all of James’s novels, The Bostonians is an investigation of what happens between and among people, and how that arena of interaction can take on a life of its own and determine the fates of those involved.

Miss Chancellor and Mr. Ransom are ferocious rivals in what becomes a love triangle. Both want possession of Verena Tarrant, the pretty, weak, and very charming product of a Cambridge quack healer and the daughter of an abolitionist. The innocent Verena, who has a “gift” for inspirational speaking, is nothing if not a child of the new ideas. “She had sat on the knees of somnambulists, and had been passed from hand to hand by trance-speakers; she was familiar with every kind of ‘cure,’ and had grown up among lady-editors of newspapers advocating new religions, and people who disapproved of the marriage-tie.” Through this tug-of-war over a person, Verena, who is also the creature of a particular New England subculture, James explores the psychological implications of belief—how a climate of ideas can invade, affect, mingle with, and be used, both consciously and unconsciously, by a person in the throes of passion.

The book’s intellectual vigor, then, is not located in what the characters say they believe, in their dogmatic positions, but rather in a dialectical tension between the “personal” and the “impersonal,” the “private” and “the public,” “the particular” and “the general.” These words in their various forms occur so often in the novel that they become a conspicuous and pointed refrain. What they mean, however, is another, far more complicated business. Because The Bostonians skips from one person’s point of view to another’s, the narrator gives us access to the thoughts of all his major characters and to each one’s idiosyncratic uses of these words, a fact that further complicates their meaning. When Basil first meets his cousin Olive, he notes the bourgeois opulence of her house and feels that he has never found himself “in the presence of so much organised privacy.”. This is exactly the realm in which he hopes to place Verena. He emphatically believes that she is meant “for privacy, for him, for love.” On the other hand, the narrator tells us that Mrs. Farrinder, formidable spokeswoman for the emancipation of women, has “something public in her eye, which was large, cold, and quiet.”

The foggy, attenuated Miss Birdseye, relic of an earlier abolitionist age, is also a being of generalities, a person who, though rumored to have had a Hungarian lover in her youth, could never, the narrator tells us, “have entertained a sentiment so personal. She was in love, even in those days, only with causes.” Dr. Prance, on the other hand, devoted physician and living proof of female competence in a profession usually reserved for men, has no use for causes: “She looked about her with a kind of near-sighted deprecation, and seemed to hope that she should not be expected to generalise in any way.” The society matron Mrs. Burrage, only marginally involved in causes, is also a woman whose “favours” are “general, not particular.” Selah Tarrant stresses that his daughter’s success as a speaker is “thoroughly impersonal,” and Verena herself insists that when she addresses an audience, “It is not me. . . .” In sharp contrast, Ransom, as he watches Verena’s performance, thinks to himself that what he is witnessing is “an intensely personal exhibition.” And while Olive Chancellor hopes and believes that she will never be like her frivolous sister, Mrs. Luna, who is “so personal, so narrow.” Basil Ransom finds Olive to be “intensely, fearfully, a person.” Verena, too, discovers “how peculiarly her friend” Olive is “constituted, how nervous and serious . . . how personal, how exclusive.” The words slip according to each character’s perceptions, blind spots, and feelings, and only through their interplay can we begin to make sense of James’s meaning.



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The Bostonians (Illustrated + FREE audiobook link + Active TOC) 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Weatherend More than 1 year ago
This is early James--although this particular edition has the revisions that he made for the New York Edition in 1907. Heavily influenced by Balzac, this novel nevertheless contains many pleasures that are purely Jamesian. I had not read it for years, and enjoyed my return to its pages immensely.
Lady_Lazarus on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Most of all: boring. This time Henry James didn't even succeed in manipulating the reader (or just me?) to feel anxiety on behalf of the characters. I was left wondering whether this was a failed satire or not, because the themes of emancipation were brushed aside as if the male narrator didn't know at all what the women actually stood for. Also the female characters remained unapproachable and one-dimensional.
gwendolynzepeda on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book made me so angry that I almost had an aneurism. Then I calmed down and realized anew Mr. James' talent for depicting brilliant women in abusive romances, and I loved him anew for understanding what a scary tragedy that situation is.
tzelman on LibraryThing 5 months ago
An emotional romance between a Southerner and an emancipationist--windy but pointed
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is my least favorite of all of James' novels. He descends into his worst impulses towards misogyny, self-lacerating homophobia, and anti-Americanism in his supposed design to tell a tale of American manners and the triumph of the Old South over Puritan New England.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Audiobook.....Surprisingly radical! This is a metaphorical story about the tug of war between men and women. A native Mississippian strives to conquer a lovely young feminist reformer in post Civil War Boston. I say conquer, because to succumb to him means forever relinquishing her right to express herself on any feminist issue. The closing line is something like,".......I fear these tears are only a few of those she will shed in the future."
literarysarah on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Henry James's female characters, whether stupid, manipulative, or simply weak, never fail to disappoint.
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