Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars James Does Sapphism??, 30 Aug 2010
This review is from: The Bostonians: A Novel (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Firstly I should warn anyone reading this Penguin edition, the print is a bit on the small side and may not be easily read by some people, also if you have never read any Henry James before, this isn't the best book to start with.

This tale came out in 1886 in novel form, after first being serialized. The year saw two James novels come out in print, this one and The Princess Casamassima (Classics), neither of them received very flattering reviews and both of them are now referred to as his 'political novels'. This book has always been more popular on this side of the Atlantic whilst the other one has always been more popular in the US. I won't go into details why this is so but looking at the US site for Amazon I see that this book has obviously gained in popularity.

The story itself is very simple, but of course with most of James' tales it is drawn out. Olive Chancellor feels it her duty to invite her cousin, Basil Ransom to visit her in Boston. Going to one of her radical meetings they both come across Verena Tarrant. Basil disapporves of her views and opinions, after all this is a feminist meeting and he has old world values. Olive on the other hand has the same views as Verena. So more or less starts a fight for Verena's heart and soul by these two cousins.

Why this novel has gained much deeper appreciation in later years is because people are more and more realising that Olive is undoubtedly a lesbian. That you can read this between the lines isn't difficult, but that James is even more open in the text is surprising. You read quite early on that when Olive tries to get close to working class girls they shun her, and as Verena is to all intents and purposes naieve and innocent would account for her not running. It is never made clear whether a definite lesbian relationship is experienced between the young women, but a close reading would seem to suggest that there probably is. But will Olive be able to hold onto Verena, especially after Basil formerly makes his proposal?

You have to wonder whether James went through his life after writing this, chuckling away to himself that he hadn't caused a furore at the time. Richard Lansdown gives a very good introduction here explaining why this is James' most humurous novel, as well as there being two appendices, both extracts, one from de Tocqueville, and the other from James, as well as copious notes.
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M. Dowden
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Location: London, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 14