Friday, May 1, 2009

Middle-class white suburban opression

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: 246-322

Well, we're heading into the home stretch now. You can tell because Olive's starting to completely flip out all the time, and that's fun for everyone. Also, James says "I" a lot more when you get toward the end. If anyone has a theory as to why, I'm willing to entertain it.

The prolonged visit that Basil and Verena were still conducting when Olive returned to the house at the close of my last post turns out to be a jaunty stroll (again with the strolling - it only ends in ruined maidens, I'm telling you) through Central Park, during which Basil espouses his conservative views on The Woman Question (Do you think I'm going to stop capitalizing that? Because I'm so not.) and hits on Verena something terrible. She rebuffs his advances, but not before she finds herself intrigued, albeit against her will, by his impassioned pleas for the rights of man. It is not, apparently, that he has anything against women per se, but rather that he feels his sex must also be championed. (It just smacks of Neo-Nazism, doesn't it? It's not that we want to denounce and debase all other races, it's just that we want to stand up for white rights. Because whites need so much defending. It amazes me how people don't understand the problem with that kind of philosophy.)

Somehow Verena allows this to endear him to her, rather than rolling her eyes and sighing at his idiocy (Which is what I would do. But you may have noticed that I'm something of a cynic.), but, in the end, she takes her leave of him with her honor still intact. (Oh, I almost forgot - James throws several random barbs about the vulgarity of the design of Central Park into this section, and it's kind of awesome in a "Why are you vindictively critical of something that's clearly now stood the test of time?" way. Seriously, the man is obviously deeply disgruntled with Frederick Law Olmsted, and it's difficult to say why. I may be biased in Olmsted's favor, however, since he also designed the layout of the village in which I spent my formative years. And he designed the gardens of the Biltmore Estate. Don't tell me you don't love the Biltmore Estate. There's an underground bowling alley and three kitchens, one of which is exclusively devoted to pastries. Are you going to argue with that?)

A short while later, Verena and Olive decide to take a vacation to Cape Cod (The descriptions of the small towns that are nearly overrun by the wilderness of the wild shoreline are both beautiful and fascinating, since Cape Cod and wilderness are no longer ideas that even remotely relate to one another.) in order to relax and to plan a grand lecture tour for Verena, which is to begin at some giant, famous music hall in New York. (I mean, you know, it's not Carnegie, but Christ - she's really moving up in the world.) Basil ends up following them there, where he renews his advances toward Verena. She is increasingly unable to resist him, but quite refuses to gallivant off in order to avoid him, insisting to Olive that she at least do him the justice of listening. He hangs around for the subsequent month, and they have many a jaunty stroll and attendant discussion of their mutual values. During these discussions, Basil makes it clear to Verena that she would have to cease all lecturing immediately upon their marriage, and not just that, but that he views her plans for Radio City Music Hall as nothing short of despicable. (Have I mentioned he's a regressive jerk? I thought I'd reiterate, just in case that wasn't coming through clearly.) At the end of a month, though she clearly wishes to do precisely the opposite (because somehow she's fallen for him, even though he's a regressive jerk) Verena refuses Basil. When he comes to see her one last time upon the morning of his departure, he finds her gone, with only Olive's obvious triumph for a farewell.

It's astonishing to me that I have completely and totally forgotten how this book ends. Regardless of the fact that I read it and wrote a paper on it only a few years ago, I have no idea what the conclusion is. I think they get married, but that's conjecture as much as recollection - conjecture, I might add, based on the proposition that Henry James is not going to come down on the side of female emancipation. I mean, have you read Daisy Miller? Poor girl dies at the end, and all she really did was break a few social conventions. (It's a rough life, being a James character. I mean, besides the dying, there's the fact that you have to examine everyone you meet in an absurdly meticulous fashion and then make judgements about their relationship to you based on your observations. Ahem.)

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