The Bostonians: Classic Review

Horace Elisha Scudder in The Atlantic Monthly: [Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1886.]

Book_2 It might be supposed, at first glance, that Mr. James in The Bostonians was not going to let us off, but intended to drag us with him into the labyrinth of the woman question. Nothing could be more unjust. Mr. James, with the quick instinct of an artist, saw his opportunity in the strange contrasts presented by a phase of Boston life which is usually taken too seriously for purposes of fiction. We do not remember any more striking illustration of Mr. James’s general self-expatriation. He comes back, as it were, to scenes once familiar to him, bringing with him habits of thought and observation which make him seize upon just those features of life which would arrest the attention of an Englishman or a Frenchman. The subtle distinctions between the Laphams and Correys are nothing to him, but he is caught by the queer variety of humanitarianism which with many people outside Boston is the peculiar attribute of that much suffering city. He remembers, we will suppose, the older form, the abolition sentiment which prevailed in his youth, and now is curious about the later development, which he takes to be a medley of women’s rights, spiritualism, inspirationism, and the mind cure. He notices a disposition on the part of what a clever wit called Boston Proper to break away from its orbit and get entangled in this nebulous mass, and so he takes for his main figure a woman who is young and old by turns, according to the need of the novelist, a Bostonian of the straighter sect, who has yet, by the very force of her inherited rigidity of conscience, martyred herself, and cast in her lot with a set of reformers who are much the worse for wear.

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