The Bostonians by
Henry James is a very interesting book for our times. The role of women is often in the news today
and it is sad to see the disenfranchisement of women in cultures that do not
allow them freedom of expression or self-determination. But it might be good to read a book by a
superlative author published in 1886 set in Boston with the subject being
women’s rights, known as the suffragette movement. It was not so long ago women were denied many
basic rights her in the US. Our main
characters are Olive Chancellor, a passionate suffragette, her cousin Basil
Ransom, a civil war veteran and southern gentleman, and Verena Tarrant the
lovely young woman they both want to influence.
James writing is superb, he infuses wit and satire into this tale of the
struggle for women’s rights and the resistance to that struggle by men who
would prefer to protect the fairer sex in a household setting rather than
turned loose on the world.
From Boston's social underworld emerges Verena Tarrant, a girl with extraordinary oratorical gifts, which she deploys in tawdry meeting-houses on behalf of 'the sisterhood of women.' She acquires two admirers of a very different stamp: Olive Chancellor, devotee of radical causes, and marked out for tragedy; and Basil Ransom, veteran of the Civil War, with rigid views concerning society and women's place therein. Is the lovely, lighthearted Verena made for public movements or private passions? A struggle to possess her, body and soul, develops between Olive and Basil. The exploitation of Verena's unregenerate innocence reflects a society whose moral and cultural values are failing to survive the new dawn of liberalism and democracy. The Bostonians (1886) was not welcomed by James's fellow countrymen, who failed to appreciate its delicacy and wit; but a century later, this book is widely regarded as James's finest American fiction, and perhaps his comic masterpiece.
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