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Encyclopedia > The Bostonians
Title The Bostonians

Cover of 1984 Penguin English Library edition of The Bostonians
Author Henry James
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Macmillan and Co., London
Released 16-Feb-1886
Media type Print (Serial)
Pages Volume one, 244; volume two, 226; volume three, 232

The Bostonians is a novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in The Century Magazine in 1885-1886 and then as a book in 1886. This bittersweet tragicomedy centers on an odd triangle of characters: Basil Ransom, an unbending political conservative from Mississippi; Olive Chancellor, Ransom's cousin and a zealous Boston feminist; and Verena Tarrant, a pretty protege of Olive's in the feminist movement. The storyline concerns the contest between Ransom and Olive for Verena's allegiance and affection, though the novel also includes a wide panorama of political activists, newspaper people, and quirky eccentrics. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... For other uses of this name, see Henry James (disambiguation). ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... A novel (from French nouvelle Italian novella, new) is an extended, generally fictional narrative, typically in prose. ... Macmillan Publishers Ltd, also known as The Macmillan Group, is a privately-held international publishing company owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. ... This article is about the capital of England and the United Kingdom. ... It has been suggested that this article be split into multiple articles accessible from a disambiguation page. ... A novel (from French nouvelle Italian novella, new) is an extended, generally fictional narrative, typically in prose. ... For other uses of this name, see Henry James (disambiguation). ... The Century Magazine was first published in the United States in 1881 by The Century Company of New York City as a successor to Scribners Monthly Magazine. ... 1885 (MDCCCLXXXV) is a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Saturday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... 1886 (MDCCCLXXXVI) is a common year starting on Friday (click on link to calendar) // Events January 18 - Modern field hockey is born with the formation of The Hockey Association in England. ... Tragicomedy (or dark comedy or black comedy) refers to fictional works that blend aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. ... This article deals with conservatism as a political philosophy. ... This article does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Nickname: City on the Hill, Beantown, The Hub (of the Universe)1, Athens of America, The Cradle of Revolution, Puritan City, Americas Walking City Location in Massachusetts, USA Counties Suffolk County Mayor Thomas M. Menino(D) Area    - City 232. ... Feminism is a collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies largely motivated by or concerned with the liberation of women. ...


Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Mississippi lawyer and Civil War veteran Basil Ransom visits his cousin Olive Chancellor in Boston. She takes him to a political meeting where Verena Tarrant delivers a feminist speech. Ransom, a strong conservative, is annoyed by the speech but fascinated with the speaker. Olive, who has never before set eyes on Verena, is equally fascinated. She persuades Verena to stay at her home and study with her in preparation for a wider career in the feminist movement. Meanwhile, Ransom returns to his law practice in New York, which is not doing well. He visits Boston again and walks with Verena through the Harvard College grounds, including the impressive Civil War memorial. Verena finds herself attracted to the charismatic Ransom. English barrister 16th century painting of a civil law notary, by Flemish painter Quentin Massys. ... This article is becoming very long. ... Lady Justice or Justitia is a personification of the moral force that underlies the legal system (particularly in Western art). ... New York, NY redirects here. ... Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and a member of the Ivy League. ...

Basil eventually proposes to Verena, much to Olive's dismay. Olive has arranged for Verena to speak at the Boston Music Hall. Ransom shows up at the hall just before Verena is scheduled to begin her speech. He persuades Verena to elope with him, to the discomfiture of Olive and her fellow-feminists. The final sentence of the novel shows Verena in tears - not to be her last, James assures us.


Unlike much of James' work, The Bostonians deals with explicitly political themes: feminism and the general role of women in society. James was at best ambivalent about the feminist movement, and the early chapters harshly satirize Olive and her fellow ideologues. Another theme in the book, much disussed recently, is Olive's possible lesbian attraction to Verena. James is not explicit here, partially due to the conventions of the time. But this vagueness may actually enrich the novel because it creates possible ambiguity about Olive's motives. 1867 edition of the satirical magazine Punch, a British satirical magazine, ground-breaking on popular literature satire. ... This article is about homosexual women, not inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos A lesbian (lowercase L) is a homosexual woman. ...

As Ransom gets closer to winning Verena, he seems to lose at least some of his creator's sympathy. James was rather suspicious of the winners in life who scoop up all the goodies, especially the sexual goodies. He becomes more sympathetic to Olive in the later chapters as she begins to lose Verena. This is especially evident in chapter 39, where Olive experiences a painful recognition of her situation somewhat similar to Isabel Archer's long nighttime meditation in chapter 42 of The Portrait of a Lady. This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... For the film, see The Portrait of a Lady (film). ...

The three central characters are surrounded by a vivid supporting cast of would-be reformers, cynical journalists, and sometimes sinister hangers-on. James shows remarkable ability to create a broad cross-section of American society, which helps refute the charge that he could only handle small, closed-off bits of life.

Critical evaluation

To put it mildly, The Bostonians was not well-received by contemporary critics, especially on the western side of the Atlantic. James' portrayal of Boston reformers was denounced as inaccurate and unfair, especially because some felt James had satirized actual persons in the novel. Mark Twain vowed that he would rather be damned to John Bunyan's heaven than read the book. The word critic comes from the Greek κριτικός, kritikós - one who discerns, which itself arises from the Ancient Greek word κριτής, krités, meaning a person who offers reasoned judgement or analysis, value judgement, interpretation, or observation. ... “Atlantic” redirects here. ... Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910),[1] better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer. ... John Bunyan. ...

Later critics, though uncomfortable with the novel's rather static nature and possibly too-great length, have found more to praise in James' account of the contest for Verena and his description of the wider background of feminism and other reform movements. The quiet but significant struggle between Olive Chancellor and Basil Ransom does seem more pertinent and engrossing today than it might have appeared to 19th century readers. James bemoaned the harsh effect that this novel and The Princess Casamassima (published in the same year) had on his critical fortunes. Although he didn't turn away from political themes completely, he never again gave political ideas such an important place in his fiction. Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... The Princess Casamassima is a novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly in 1885-1886 and then as a book in 1886. ...

Film version

The Bostonians was filmed in 1984 by the Merchant Ivory team (director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) with Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave and Madeleine Potter in the three central roles. The movie received respectable reviews and showings at arthouse theaters in New York, London and other cities. Vanessa Redgrave received 1984 Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress, and the movie earned other award nominations for costume design and cinematography. The Bostonians is 1984s Merchant Ivory Film, based on Henry James novel. ... 1984 (MCMLXXXIV) was a leap year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... James Ivory (left) and Ismail Merchant (right) in New York City in 1974. ... James Francis Ivory (born June 7, 1928) is an award-winning American film director, best known for the results of his long collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions, which included both Indian-born producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. ... Ismail Merchant Ismail Merchant (December 25, 1936 – May 25, 2005) was an Indian-born film producer, best known for the results of his long collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions which included director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. ... Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, CBE (born May 7, 1927) is a Booker prize-winning novelist, short story writer, and two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter. ... Christopher Reeve (September 25, 1952 – October 10, 2004) was an American actor, director, producer and writer. ... Vanessa Redgrave, CBE (born 30 January 1937) is an Academy Award winning English actress and member of the Redgrave family, one of the enduring theatrical dynasties. ... Madeline Potter is an American actress born in Washington, D.C.. The daughter and granddaughter of American diplomats, she is a first cousin once removed of the 1960s tastemaker and fashion designer Pauline de Rothschild. ... Art film is a film style that began as a European reaction to the classical Hollywood style of film making. ... New York, NY redirects here. ... This article is about the capital of England and the United Kingdom. ... The Golden Globe Awards are American awards for motion pictures and television programs, given out each year during a formal dinner. ... Although he never won an Oscar for any of his movie performances, the comedian Bob Hope received two honorary Oscars for his contributions to cinema. ...


  • A Henry James Encyclopedia by Robert Gale (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989) ISBN 0-313-25846-5
  • The Novels of Henry James by Edward Wagenknecht (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983) ISBN 0-8044-2959-6

Edward (Charles) Wagenknecht (March 28, 1900 - May 24, 2004) was a U.S. literary critic and teacher, who specialized in 19th century American literature. ...

External links

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