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 and odd agendas of the main character, the rather grim Olive Chancellor, whose smile, on the rare occasions it appears, is likened to a thin ray of moonlight resting upon the wall of a prison. I'm always on the lookout for an angle I can use in a review, but though I persevered stoically with this book, I wasn't having much luck, hardly even finding a quote worth noting until I reached the half way point, page 180 to be exact, where I came across something that seemed to offer a generous angle, plus a quotable sentence that summed up my own situation very aptly: I was on the point of saying that a happy chance had favoured Basil Ransom, but it occurs to me that one is under no obligation to call chances by flattering epithets when they have been waited for so long. The 'happy chance' that Ransom - and myself - had waited for so long was the reappearance of one of those interesting minor characters who'd disappeared from the narrative early on: Miss Birdseye. Miss Birdseye reminded me of something I'd been noticing in other Henry James books: James never repeats a character. Viewed by Ransom, she appears sufficiently pretty; her hair was in clusters of curls, like bunches of grapes; her tight bodice seemed to crack with her vivacity; and from beneath the stiff little plaits of her petticoat a small fat foot protruded, resting upon a stilted heel. Even in the case of characters who have only very slight roles, Henry James invests time and attention, as in the description of New Yorker Mrs Burrage who makes some brief but impressive appearances in the narrative. Then there's Dr Prance, also a minor character, but one of my favourites. This had so long been Ransoms conviction that his heart quite warmed to Doctor Prance, and he paid homage to her wisdom in the manner of Mississippi with a richness of compliment that made her turn her acute, suspicious eye upon him. Thinking about the skill with which Henry James creates and describes his characters reminds me of something he wrote in the appendix to The Golden Bowl.
Occupation : general brokerage, whatever the hell that means. One hell of a region. "Ive heard of you she said. Ive noticed that. Ive noticed.) I like a challenge I said.
Newsflash: Henry James is funny! The opening of this book reads like a farce, a comedy of manners, a vicious taking apart of characters worthy of Oscar Wilde. (I will warn you that you will be thinking of creative ways for Olive Chancellor to die after the first fifty pages or so. I picked it up and put it down, but once I picked it up again, I'd read 50 pages in a blink. Once again: Henry James has a sense of humor!
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. Olive sees Verena as the future of the womens movement. Olive and Basil compete for Verena throughout the novel.
The Princess Casamassima is set in revolutionary socialist circles in London; The Bostonians, in radical feminist circles in Boston and New York. The socialists of The Princess Casamassima discuss political theory less, and in less detail, than any group of radicals known within the history of man, while the feminists of The Bostonians seem to limit their analysis to long evenings of weepily considering how very, very horrid men have been to women throughout history. For a novel of this period that actually engages with the ideas and ideals of the nineteenth-century feminist movement, I would decidedly recommend Gissings 1893, London-set The Odd Women over The Bostonians.
I listened to this on audible while driving to & from work -- it took awhile, but the book allows itself to be 'read' in chunks. she specializes in reading audible erotic romances -- so I guess 'Xe' is not chinese; probably her real name is Mildred or something...
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. Basil finds the whole thing ridiculous, but is intrigued by Verena and slowly begins to fall in love with her. Along with Olive's manipulativeness, this is part of what makes the novel repulsive. Nor is Basil, though appealing on some levels, exempt from the disgust a modern reader will feel; he is deeply anti-feminist, feeling that any gifts a woman has should be used in the home, for the husband's exclusive benefit. (Including Verena's gift for speechifying before large audiences...) Verena never loses her affection for Olive, but she begins to feel the pull of Ransom, and the novel concerns itself with who will win Verena.
His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allowed him to explore the phenomena of consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting.