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18 January 2009 @ 08:45 pm
The Bostonians, Henry James

Or, as it is better known, The Boring Yet Creepy Love Song of Olive and Verena.

I've heard of characters who are supposedly gay without authorial intent - Charlotte Lucas springs to mind - but this is just ridiculous. I had to refer to the footnotes a couple times and references were included there to the free-love hippie communes of the 1870s - of which there were several; I am shocked, America, shocked! It is not possible that a man who not only intimately knew of such things, but included them in his books, could be unaware of the concept of sapphism and how it predominated in his main characters. I refuse to believe it. I also have plenty of evidence.

'It isn't your father, and it isn't your mother; I don't think of them, and it's not them I want. It's only you - just as you are."

Said by Olive of Verena. This happens to be a half a lie. She wants Verena, wholly and exclusively, for sure - but not the way she is. Olive spends two years doing her utmost to change everything about Verena to turn her into a version more pleasing to herself. But that's neither here nor there in relation to the point I'm making, which is: GAY!

But she was not eager about this vision, for the implications of matrimony were for the most part wanting in brightness - consisted of a tired woman holding a baby over a furnace-register that emitted lukewarm air. A real lovely friendship with a young woman who had, as Mrs Tarrant expressed it, 'prop'ty,' would occupy agreeably such an interval as might occur before Verena should meet her sterner fate;

Just to illustrate that Verena is surrounded by influences suggesting that marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life (Olive and Miss Birdseye being the others), which is refreshing if not exactly an argument for same-sex civil unions pre-electricity.

She was haunted, in a word, with the fear that Verena would marry, a fate to which she was altogether unprepared to surrender her;

O RLY. Will silk ropes be involved? Keep me posted!

"You would say so if you were to see Miss Chancellor when Verena rises to eloquence. It's as if the chords were strung across her own heart; she seems to vibrate, to echo with every word. It's a very close and very beautiful tie, and we think everything of it here. They will work together for a great good!"

Dumbledore worked for 'the greater good.' Dumbledore was gay. Ergo, Verena and Olive are gay! Ta-da!

Apart from this rather puzzling aspect of the book, I didn't like it. I don't think I'd have liked it even if Verena and Olive were out and proud, because talk about fucked-up co-dependency. But I've never had to push so hard with a book I didn't end up loathing in the end. I liked Washington Square a lot - predictably, as it's his starter novel - but this isn't in the same vein at all. Nor is it, I suggest, half as well written, despite the foreword's breathless orgasms to the contrary. (Yes, I've had to resort to foreword fiddling AGAIN.) The foreword says this is his funniest novel, egad. I'd hate to see his least funniest.

Mrs Luna was drawing on her gloves; Ransom had never seen any that were so long; they reminded him of stockings, and he wondered how she managed without garters above the elbow.

It's called bingo wings, Harry.

[...] and on behalf of a vigilant public opinion, the pride of a democratic State, to the great end of preventing the American citizen from attempting clandestine journeys.

Britney Spears, HOLLA.

He regarded the mission of mankind on earth as a perpetual evolution of telegrams

The internet, HOLLA.

[...] the responsive menial, receiving the visitor on the threshold, was a creature rather desired than definitely possessed

See, all this is witty rather than funny. Also, there are four quotes. Four. That's even less than He Knew He Was Right, and no one is suggesting that He Knew He Was Right was Trollope's funniest novel.

Some descriptions I liked:

It might have been likened to a thin ray of moonlight resting upon the wall of a prison.

She was sufficiently pretty; her hair was in clusters of curls, like bunches of grapes; her tight bodice seemed to crack with her vivacity; and from beneath the stiff little plaits of her petticoat a small fat foot protruded, resting upon a stilted heel.

And some I didn't:

She had curious, radiant, liquid eyes (their smile was a sort of reflection, like the glisten of a gem)

Mary Sue!Verena FTW!

[...] she had come simply to make herself disagreeable, as Olive knew, of old, the spirit sometimes moved her irresistibly to do.

His writing. Oh god, his writing. The effluvium of parentheses. If he cut all the information contained in the brackets, the story would lose nothing, and in fact would be far better for it. The endless semi-colons - surely there's a limit to how many you can squeeze into one sentence? And this. The CIRCUMLOCUTION. Why, James, why?

This is how that sentence should go:
She had come to make herself disagreeable, as an irresistible spirit often moved her to do. We don't need to know what Olive thought of it! We don't need to know how long it's going on! It's one irrelevant sentence, don't prolong the torture!

And now we get on to the most charming part of the novel: Basil Ransom, a man more odious and misogynistic than JAMES BOND. In my eyes, a man can sink no lower.

[...] and whether even a carpet-bagger hadn't a right to do what he liked with his daughter.

Actually, no. It's called 'child abuse,' and it's rather frowned upon. But seriously? The concept that a man can do what he likes with any woman - wife, sister, daughter, friend - is just. UGH.

Her manner of repairing her inconsistency was altogether feminine: she wished to extract a certainty at the same time that she wished to deprecate a pledge

WTF, dude, seriously. I'm going to try and translate this:

She solved the problem by insisting Verena was true to her word without actually making her promise.

Yeah, I'm not in the habit of doing that. It's hardly a modus operandi that can be applied to women as a whole - if anything can, let alone that. Fail.

"And as for women," Ransom went on, "they have once source of happiness that is closed to us - the consciousness that their presence here below lifts half the load of our suffering."


Closed to us - i.e., it's not a man's responsibility to make a WOMAN happy. Why should he? She's only a WOMAN.

And of course, seeing as they're ONLY WOMEN, they have nothing better to do than make a man happy. No 'I have a headache, dear' or 'I'd like to finish my embroidery, dear' or god forbid, 'I HAVE MY OWN FUCKING LIFE, DEAR.' I'm really suspicious of James' motives in all this - of which, more later.

"The use of a truly amiable woman is to make some honest man happy," Ransom said [...]"

OHO, this reminds me so much of the arguments for Keltie (like Ryan needs us to justify why he's going out with any girl, wtf). 'She makes him happy,' people mewl. Personally I think it's that she's hot, and he likes having a hot gf, on top of the fact that she seems perfectly amiable and loves him a lot. Many have pointed out that she deserves some happiness from the equation too, but it just doesn't sink in for people. There are a lot of Basil Ransoms in the world. We should shoot them!

[...] it being his theory, as we have perceived, that he knew much more about Verena's native bent than the young lady herself.


[...] she was in tears. It is to feared that with the union, so far from brilliant, that she was about to enter, these were not the last she was destined to shed.

Well, ha, sucker, and: what the fuck?

If anyone actually reads this, I'd like to know James' stance on suffrage. If this book were based on any other topic, I'd unhesitatingly call him on his crimes against feminism. Yet at times he is so eloquent about the trials of women in his time, I can't reconcile the two. Help?

In the end, I think the whole thing is patently ridiculous. I can actually understand Verena losing interest in a cause and preferring marriage instead, but why with Basil? We are given not one sliver of proof that there's anything in it for her. He hates all that she stands for, is poor and obnoxious. If she was going to marry, why didn't she go for Mr Burrage? What the book really needed was less smug description of a disappeared New York and more of just what happened on those walks on the beach. Why did she come home crying, but end up running away with him? Why did she run away with him? Maybe he slipped some crack into a posy, I don't know. It makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope
Current Mood: rushedrushed
Current Music: slavonic dance // dvorak
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Beautiful human being/potatoscoradh on January 18th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
I obsessively check that every time, and every time there's a non-closed italic. EVERY TIME. But damn, you're fast. :D

I would have liked it so much if they were happy closet lesliebeans! Then again I dislike Sarah Waters for precisely that reason. I'm hard to please.
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: frangipaniscoradh on January 18th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
All I can think about Basil's physicality is that he had no parting to his hair. That's fucking weird, man. I don't want a guy with no parting to his hair. This was pre-gel and everything, wtf.

That is certainly a radical read on it - maybe I just read classics from a conservative place - but I'm glad I wasn't just hallucinating it. Heehee, was it the right time to slash James with Oscar Wilde?!
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every Starbucks should have a polar bear: bands PATD Group hugscoradh on January 20th, 2009 09:32 am (UTC)
Yeah, James seems to be a git while Wilde was THE COOLEST PERSON EVER TO LIVE, so I reckon it'd be a little unequal.

He was supposed to look 'leonine.' I'm not sure what James wanted to achieve with that, but I'm pretty sure it's nothing like what the image actually coveys. AND VERENA WAS A TOOL.

I mean in the sense that I don't expect controversial topics like lesbianism to exist anywhere but in my mind!

I like it. Maybe if Wilde had been American he wouldn't have rotted in jail?
the claw-foot Lady: [goode] i left a light on forsoftlyforgotten on January 19th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
I have not read this book, but misogyny and such aside, I think it's the "liquid eyes" that make me sure I never will. WHYYYY. ;__;
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: bands FOB Pete the dinosaurscoradh on January 20th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
*thoughtful* I'm not sure. Maybe she was supposed to water the flower of the revolution with them! or something.

Oh, do read it, any time you want to revel in HATE.
karorumetallium: omgdedkarorumetallium on January 19th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
.. oh, so that was the book! I mean, I catched this old movie one day in TV and didn't know what the fuck was happening. I was perplexed when I watched some lady and a girl being too affectionate with each other in some early 80's movie set in the 19th century. The lady was VERY CREEPY when handling the girl, and the girl- well, I wanted to hit her. And then there were feminist assembly, and the girl falling for the very masculine, very sexy Superman (I mean C. Reeves) and the lady getting even more creepy and desperate. It was weird and funny, and I was like O____o, and then I never got to know the title of the movie.

Well, now I know it must have been The Bostonians. And going by the way you talk about it, I don't want to get near that book, EVER. But you're so funny about the whole thing XDD

"Dumbledore worked for 'the greater good.' Dumbledore was gay. Ergo, Verena and Olive are gay! Ta-da!" OMG SO LOGICAL.

"Basil Ransom, a man more odious and misogynistic than JAMES BOND. In my eyes, a man can sink no lower." HAHAHAHAHA
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: pre-raphelitescoradh on January 20th, 2009 11:09 pm (UTC)
I find my rage does tend to amuse people. I'm not sure why; I'm entirely sincere when I tell people they've drunk the Kool Aid because they like paediatrics. Oh well.

It's a pretty dull and difficult book, for sure. I'm sure there are nicer James to read, but I'm restricted to what the library has on offer (and I'm bloody not going to PAY for it).
(Anonymous) on April 8th, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
NATO takes over command of military operations in Libya
[b]NATO is taking over command of military operations in Libya from coalition forces, world media reported Sunday.[/b]

The UN Security Council imposed the no-fly zone over Libya on March 17, along with ordering "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's attacks on rebel-held towns.

The 28 NATO ambassadors met on Sunday to decide on further military plans in Libya.

The United States transfers command for a no-fly zone over Libya to NATO, while coalition forces will continue to protect civilian population from attacks by Gaddafi forces.

The military operation in Libya, codenamed Odyssey Dawn, has been conducted so far jointly by 13 states, including the United States, Britain and France.

NATO members decided on Thursday to assume responsibility for the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, but could not agree on taking full command of all military operations in the country.

Meanwhile, leaders of the 27 European Union states on Thursday issued a statement saying the EU stood ready to assist in building a new Libya "in cooperation with the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and others."

MOSCOW, March 27 (RIA Novosti)