HISTORY 245 BACKGROUND NOTES FOR THE BOSTONIANS
Henry James is among our most famous novelists; you may know him through recent films: Wings of the Dove,
Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square
There has been much speculation about James's sexual orientation.
married, and although he had close friendships with women (including Edith Wharton), he also had a number of
intimate relationships with young men.
One of these was a young sculptor with whom he engaged in a very erotic
correspondence and who became the model for his book Roderick Hudson
He spent most of his life living in
There are no sex scenes in Henry James's novels, although many of them have dark, Southern (usually
Italian) characters hinting of deep sensuality, as Madame Merle in Portrait of a Lady
And these sensual characters
often cast nets which trap the young, innocent American girl, searching for experience without knowing exactly what
she wants. Basil Ransome is the sensual character in The Bostonians
; Verena Tarrant the young, virginal woman.
In 1883 James wrote: "I wished to write a very American tale, a tale characteristic of our social conditions,
and I asked myself what was the most salient and peculiar point in our social life.
The answer was: the situation of
women, the decline of the sentiment of sex, the agitation on their behalf."
Thus in 1886 he wrote The Bostonians
The book itself is both an appreciation of, and a satire of, the American reform tradition, particularly
Set in Boston, it is the story of the contest between Basil Ransom, a Southerner who has moved to
New York City, to seek his fortune as a lawyer and a writer, and Olive Chancellor, a well-to-do Boston woman, for