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The Bostonians [Paperback]

Henry James
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 26 2009 0199539146 978-0199539147
The plot of this novel revolves around the feminist movement in Boston in the 1870s. F.R. Leavis called it one of "the two most brilliant novels in the language. "The novel's many allusions to the historical and social background of Boston society are explained in the editorial material.

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“As devastating in its wit as it is sharp in its social critique of sexual politics. No writer in America had dared the subject before. No one has done it so well since.” —The New Republic --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

Founded in 1906 by J.M. Dent, the Everyman Library has always tried to make the best books ever written available to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price. Unique editorial features that help Everyman Paperback Classics stand out from the crowd include: a leading scholar or literary critic's introduction to the text, a biography of the author, a chronology of her or his life and times, a historical selection of criticism, and a concise plot summary. All books published since 1993 have also been completely restyled: all type has been reset, to offer a clarity and ease of reading unique among editions of the classics; a vibrant, full-color cover design now complements these great texts with beautiful contemporary works of art. But the best feature must be Everyman's uniquely low price. Each Everyman title offers these extensive materials at a price that competes with the most inexpensive editions on the market-but Everyman Paperbacks have durable binding, quality paper, and the highest editorial and scholarly standards. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars unique among james's novels April 11 2004
I don't think this is one of his very best works and prefer The Ambassadors and The Portrait of a Lady, but it is interesting and enjoyable nonetheless. None of the characters are very reasonable (the main characters are, perhaps, not even agreeable), and the reader is torn between taking sides with Olive, Verena, or Basil, even though James has a slight bias for Basil, a reactionary. The structure of the novel seems excentric when compared with James's other novels: Basil, the hero, is absent for long stretches, and the finale includes a bit of comedy with a policeman. This scene verges on slap-stick and comes as a shock, in an otherwise intense and somber love story. The prose, however, is beautiful throughout and easier to read than that of his later novels.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent characterization, timely satire May 20 2003
This is the first James novel I've read, so my high ranking doesn't take into account the relative merits of his novels. That having been said, this novel impressed me with its excellent character development, amusing satire, and spot-on portraits of certain types of oh-so-serious New England crusaders for whom an ironic outlook is alien. The development of the southerner Basil seemed a little weak to me, but James knows his Bostonians and his sketches remain fresh.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A different kind of novel than I'm used to April 12 2003
By Brian
I finished reading this book only a few weeks ago for a college class I'm in. It certainly wasn't the kind of book I'd pick up just on my own, but I wouldn't say I didn't like it.
The story is set primarily in Boston and somewhat in New York during the 1880's. At the request of his cousin Olive Chancellor, southern lawyer Basil Ransom comes to visit. He accompanies her to a meeting where the young Verena Tarrant speaks wonderfully on women's rights. Olive is so impressed with Verena, she starts what's debatably a lesbian relationship with her, but Ransom is taken with Verena as well and so a struggle begins between the two for Verena's affections.
I think Henry James does an excellent job of giving complete descriptions of each character and you really get a sense of who they are. Olive comes across as rigid and passionate, Verena as young, full of life and curious and Basil as sexist and determined. Basil uses all his ability to wrench Verena from Olive. As I mentioned, the relationship between Verena and Olive is debatable. There are no sex scenes in this novel, but the implication is there. Additionally, I've learned in the class for which I read this novel that many women during this time period engaged in very intense romantic relationships which may or may not be described as sexual.
There are of course other characters such as Verena's parents and other women's rights activists, but the whole focus of the novel is on this struggle for Verena. It wouldn't be completely unfair to say that in some ways nothing much happens in this novel. It's truly a character driven story. There aren't really antagonists and protagonists in the story, but more just people whom all have faults and are just trying to make the right decisions.
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Henry James's, "The Bostonians," is a simple, but increasingly entertaining love story set in the years soon after the end of the Civil War. Basil Ransom, a true Southern gentleman from Mississippi, has moved North (specifically, to New York City) to try and start a career away from the impoverished South of the Reconstruction days. Shortly after moving North, he pays a visit, at her behest, to the Boston house of his distant cousin, Olive Chancellor. Olive, a stalwart in the women's rights movement of the time, invites Basil to her home in order to offer help and assistance to her Southern cousin, but she also wishes to save him from the flawed ways he certainly must have taken on growing up in the South. Her self-seeking, ulterior motives fail miserably, of course.
It is through Olive that Basil Ransom meets Verena Tarrant, the young woman who has left her lower middle-class family to move in with and be molded by Olive. Verena has a tremendous speaking ability which caught Olive's (and the other women's (womyn's?) movement leaders') attention. But ultimately, Verena also catches Basil's attention... not for her feminist diatribes, but for her beauty and the passion of her speeches. Basil is instantly struck by Verena, and from this point onward the plot focuses as Basil attempts to seek out his love interest who is highly guarded by Olive, Verena's parents, and several others.
The dialogue between Olive and her friends with Basil Ransom, is a constant back and forth that is civil on the surface, but boiling with hostility underneath the social niceties. While Basil is always cool and focused as he tracks the object of his love, Olive Chancellor only becomes more paranoid as she sees that she is gradually losing her young charge... to a Southern Neanderthal.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A novel to leave you in thought. Oct. 3 2001
First off, this is a delicious novel! What's amazing is that to me at least, is that it has no heroes. I despised Olive Chancellor (A woman who appears selfless on the surface) and equally did not care for Basil Ransom (who has just as many control 'issues' as Olive). I guess I just felt sorry for Verena, the woman Olive and Basil 'fight' over. Trust me though, despite the lack of heroes, you'll want to keep reading.
And if you want a novel you don't have to think about, this (and Henry James) is NOT for you. But if you want characters that are breathtakinly complex and inviting (though valaverous) prose, than King James is your man. I also liked the review below who stated that if you love the quick action of T.V, you won't like this book much. Of course I'd say turn of the T.V and give it a try anyway.
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