Monday, May 4, 2009

Take care of yourselves and each other.

Current book: The Bostonians
Pages read: 322-350 (end)

Oh, right. Now I remember what happens: soap operatic confrontation backstage at a crowded lecture hall. Of course.

Basil follows Verena back to Boston, where he shows up on the night of her most-advertised, most-anticipated speech ever. When she sees him in the audience before the show, she loses her nerve completely. He goes backstage to try to speak to her, and after a lot of stalling from a security guard hired by Olive to prevent just such an eventuality, finds her, all undone by his presence, and sweeps her away so that they can get married. There's kind of an awesome Jerry Springer moment when Olive, Verena's parents, and the lecture tour agent all have a giant fight in the dressing room. Verena's mother offers to abase herself at Basil's feet in order to keep Verena there, at least for the duration of the evening, but to no avail. Olive comports herself unexpectedly well, and ends up going on the stage to speak in Verena's place, regardless of the fact that she's always claimed to be an abysmal public speaker. Basil, for his part, continues to act like a complete ass, telling Verena that he's sorry to make her suffer so, but he knew that she would be unable to resist marrying him, and that it's for the best that she give up all her silly ideas of freedom, which she pretty much confirms entirely by dissolving into tears and collapsing into his arms. James, at least, ends on a note of skepticism about their future; Verena is lead away, sobbing, by Basil, and the last line of the book promises that such tears will be her lot in marriage.

In some ways, James comes off as an arrogant jerk who thinks that the cause of women's rights is a ridiculous crusade led by hysterics and dreamers. That said, he also comes off as an arrogant jerk who thinks southerners are backward and incapable of adapting themselves to modern society. I hate to extrapolate the author's views based solely on the content of the characters' statements and feelings, but that's all I've got to go on. In the end, I suppose that James didn't really choose a side, but maintained a lofty, omniscient distance from the issues and left us to judge for ourselves. It's well written; I'll give it that. The characters are crafted with care and precision, the pacing is tuned and deliberate, and the issues compelling and timely. That said, I don't particularly like any of the characters, and here at the close of the novel I'm left with the feeling that I don't know why James wrote it. Perhaps he didn't have a reason. Then again, it makes a nice change from proving everyone in the world is destined for misery, which seems to have been the theme of quite a few of the books on the list so far.

Conrad tomorrow. Oh, joy.

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