Book Review: The Bostonians by Henry James

So proud.  Finished a Henry James novel. Can put a big CHECK
on so many good-reading lists!

I like to ponder the names he gave the characters: Olive Chancellor.
There, you know she’ll be a serious no-frills woman with a name like
Chancellor–and Olive (!) . . .

Olive!  I’ve only known one Olive in my life—Olive Swan.  Even when I was
little she was old (about 40) and must be doddering by now.  Olive Swan,
married to Edward.  “Ed and Olive!” my sister would quip–mocking a
common sandwich selection in those days—“Ed and Olive”!

But when the child was born, can you picture the parents, the Chancellors
I suppose, saying, “Let’s name her Olive”?   huh?

Then there is Basil Ransom.  He’s a southerner—from Mississippi, and Olive
has invited him to visit if he’s ever in the north.  He’s a distant cousin.  Well,
to no one’s surprise he *does* come north, and begins a failing practice in
New York as a lawyer.  Basil Ransom.  Basil Ransom.  Pretty solid ground there.

And a sprightly young woman named Verena Tarrant who makes a comfortable
threesome for the plot.  Even if I didn’t tell you, you’d know Verena doesn’t
come from much —not in a way to make much fuss in Boston.  She’s the
daughter of sleazy show people who make their money fast talking and have
taught Verena along the way about how to make effective speeches.  Verena . . .
like Florene, or Lureen—no class to that name.

OK, there is a fourth character—Mrs. Luna.  She’s Olive’s sister–
and she’s a widow with her eye fixed firmly on her chances with Basil Ransom.
She and Olive are not as alike as peas in a pod, for “Mrs. Luna” is frivolous,
flighty, (like a moth–“Luna”–get it?) impertinent, and a clothes-horse.

She lives in New York, so that will be handy to the Basil Ransom angle.  I had
to keep reminding myself that these two sisters are probably only in their twenties–
James speaks of them occasionally as “young” and I’m jolted out of my reverie
of stately Bostonians in corsets at women’s suffrage gatherings.

Olive has a little money, is comfortable as they say, and spends her time and
energies on promoting women’s suffrage.  She sees the value in having Verena
as a helpmate in her cause—giving rabble-rousing speeches—and sets out to
capture Verena for herself before V might become interested in young men.
In fact, Verena comes to live with Olive and it looks like it’s going to be life
in the slow lane for Verena.

But! that’s only in the first 186 pages.   I set this all up for you in one page and
Henry James takes 186 pages.  We must have  different writing styles.

Then we turn the page to “Book Second”.  I’ll admit the story picks up a bit
because Basil Ransom . . .    oops! out of time for today—-finish the book for
yourself!  No, I’m kidding—stay tuned for Part Two soon.

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2 Responses to Book Review: The Bostonians by Henry James

  1. Stefanie says:

    Wonderful names! I can only imagine the trouble ahead 🙂

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