The Bostonians

 The Bostonians by Henry James

Olive Chancellor, a feminist of independent means, invites her southern cousin Basil Ransom to visit her in Boston. They attend a party where young Verena Tarrant is introduced as a speaker for women's rights. Both Olive and Ransom are immediately drawn to her, Olive as someone to mentor in the cause and Ransom on a more personal level. 

Olive and Ransom quickly become enemies, she urging Verena to understand that marriage would be a betrayal of her committment to the cause, he intent on making her see that a life of speaking such "foolishness" would be the ruination of a woman meant (as all women are, in his thinking) to be a wife spending her talents on pleasing her husband. 

Spoiler alert...

In the early part of the book I thought Ransom and Verena could be good for each other, that he might begin to support her work and she could be with him and still serve the interests of women. I didn't dislike him until close to the end, when I was finally convinced that he simply wanted to own her. Which is pretty much the same thing Olive wanted - to own Verena and control everything she did, thought, and felt. 

I was frustrated with both of them, and not only them. Verena seemed throughout most of the book to know her own mind, but as Ransom wore her down with his persistence she became little more than his puppet. She let herself be led away into a life she didn't want. Even then I held out some hope for them, but the closing sentence ruined that. I won't tell you what it said, just that it almost made me throw the book across the room. 

Almost. But you see, it's Henry James. I love Henry James. I don't always care so much what he does to his characters, so long as he does it in such beautiful writing. His language is exquisite, even when there's an excess of it, as there generally is. He talks and talks and talks, and his characters talk, and talk, and talk - and I am mesmerized. He reels me in as Ransom does Verena, and though I hate her capitulation, I'm just fine with mine. 


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