Book Review: The Bostonians by Henry James

The Bostonians by Henry James

I finished The Bostonians by Henry James! I knew I would, but it wasn’t an easy process. You see, I won the book from Adam at Roofbeamreader about half a year ago. I won four books, in fact. Two I read (here and here), one I couldn’t finish, and I really felt I had to finish this one, as a 50% rate is rather low on free books!

So, thank you Adam, for introducing me to some new (and old) authors. Henry James’ book was not my favorite of the four. I really struggled to get through it, but it did pick up towards the end.

The Bostonians: What it is about

Our main protagonist, Basil Ransom, is a southerner whose family have lost their property during the Civil War in the US. His cousin, Olive Chancellor, invites him to visit if he’s ever in Boston. He does, and meets Olive, a young feminist, and her sister Mrs. Luna, a widow with a young son.

Although he and Olive don’t seem to get on too well, he is invited to a meeting in the evening, where a young woman, Verena Tarrant, holds an impromptu lecture on feminist topics. He doesn’t share her ideas at all, but is mesmerized by her voice and wants to get to know her better.

Olive, meanwhile, also really likes the girl and invites her to come and stay for a prolonged period of time. Verena falls under the influence of Olive and has set her mind to it that she will never marry, but continue her life just like Olive, and give speeches to convert others to feminism.

Basil keeps in touch with Olive, but only because it brings him to Verena. Eventually he confesses he wants to marry Verena and be in charge of her (since women cannot possibly look after themselves). He proposes to her but she isn’t likely to accept.

The Bostonians: What I thought

I’m afraid I can’t give this book more than two stars, as I struggled too much getting through it (my star rating is an indication of how much I enjoyed the reading experience). Still, I don’t regret reading it, as it had some interesting elements too. It just took too much of my reading time.

Wriiting the What it is about section above, I wondered briefly if I should go to 3 stars, because the story sounds quite good fun. But no, reading it was only fun at some moments.

As many 19th Century authors, Henry James is rather longwinded. Situations are described very much into detail and really, the whole story could probably be told in about 1/3 of the number of pages. Easily.

I liked the ways of the times that were described such as how people would give someone their card, which counted as an open invitation to come and visit. Visiting without a card, as Mr Ransom did several times, was frowned upon. However, since politeness and civility was so important, nothing could be said and the visitor was welcomed anyway.

On the other hand, people could be very rude to each other as well, which was fun to read about.

I was never sure about Olive, but I think she was secretly in love with Basil Ransom. Her sister, Mrs. Luna, definitely wanted him to be her second husband.

Basil Ransom’s un-feminist convictions didn’t bother me. This was how many men thought at the time and if I’d been a man in that time, I’d probably have had the same attitudes. Hey, if I’d been a woman, probably too!

Not really a book for me, but I made it through and the end was worth it. I think.

I got this book: from Adam at RoofBeamReader in a generous giveaway of 4 books

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 398

First published: 1886

Genre: classic, literary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

16 Responses to Book Review: The Bostonians by Henry James

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Bostonians by Henry James « Leeswammes' Blog Books Empire | Books Empire

  2. Chinoiseries says:

    Even if you received the book for free, you are not obliged to like it 🙂 It doesn’t sound like a book that I’d like either. But then again, I’m a bit meh about books that are set in bygone US eras, my preference being “world literature”.

  3. Kristi says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with Henry James. He is really long-winded. I read The Turn of the Screw and it was less than 100 pages. It took me FOREVER. I thought it was really boring and not scary like everyone else seems to think. I did finish it, but I still haven’t discovered what the fuss is about him. I do want to give another of his books a shot at some point. I’m guessing I’ll skip The Bostonians though.

  4. winstonsdad says:

    i found this a tough book but like basil and olive ,James potrays the time well ,altough prefer wings of dove from him ,all the best stu

    • Leeswammes says:

      Stu, I agree, he portrays the time really well. That is what I liked best about the book. I didn’t like Olive at all. I don’t think any of the characters were nice, except maybe the female doctor.

  5. Trisha says:

    Every now and then I’ll read a book, review it, and then get all – ‘hey that plot summary sounds really cool. maybe that book wasn’t as bad as I thought.’ 🙂 Just thought I’d let you know you are not alone in that.

  6. Cindy says:

    I loved this book 🙂

  7. I read (or tried to read) a Henry James book too – “Washington Square” and I didn’t finish it, it just wasn’t for me. I am glad to see that someone else is not into Henry James.
    I suggest you don’t try Washington square, LOL.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your non-suggestion, Wendy. With these classics, people often don’t dare to say they didn’t like it because classics, you just have to like, right? No, you don’t! 🙂

  8. Tes says:

    I have some books like that that I couldn’t go on even I tried to enjoy them. I haven’t been introduced to Henry James books as much, too.

  9. I read a lot of Henry James’s novels when I was at university and I certainly would not call any of them ‘fun’, but he is a very great writer if you invest some time and effort in reading his books. I don’t think it is entirely fair to call him longwinded. Granted, his novels are not exactly fastpaced, but he has quite a lot to say in the ‘longwinded’ passages if you read carefully enough. We once compared a passage in one of his novels with a similar one in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. I very much appreciate Edith Wharton (a near contemporary of James, who wrote about the same world and the same themes) , but close-reading revealed that Henry James is definitely the superior writer of the two. I think he is still one of the best American novelists ever.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Anna, thanks for your comment. Henry James does say a lot but for me, the story didn’t move on fast enough. Not enough happened. Sometimes that is fine, but in this book I found it irritating.

      I guess when you studied him at university you look at it differently. I went in without any preconceptions and found it too slow for me.

I love comments! Let me know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: