The Bostonians Essay, Research Paper
Interesting Subjects that Captivate the Reader in the American Novel
The Bostonians, by Henry James was a very interesting piece. James’ underlying tone for the spiritualism and fascination is clearly a picture of the time when the piece was written. I thought that is played an important influence in his writing. Ruth Hall, by Fanny Fern is an unofficial biography of her own life as a women activist. One of the underlying issues that stand out in her novel is the way that she includes the lower-class women right along with the middle-class. This was not a common ideal shared by all women activists at this time. Both of these underlying issues in these books keep the reader interested it their works.
During the nineteenth-century fascination and spiritualism were very prevalent in society. You can see James’ attraction to these forms of power and healing by his continual reference to Dr. Selah Tarrant, Verena’s father. In The Bostonians, Dr. Tarrant was introduced as a healer, almost as a freak. James does his best to attempt to portray Dr. Tarrant as an oddball, but continually brings him up throughout the novel. This shows James’ fascination with the aspect of spiritual healing and how powerful he believes it can be. It almost gives the reader the sense that the powerful and influential people of the time did not want to openly practice these beliefs, but did so under the manner of their own homes or in some private forum.
Another aspect of his fascination can be seen in how James portrays Dr. Tarrant’s daughter, Verena. She is almost given a mesmerizing power by James, to control the people around her. Verena does not use this power intentionally, but it just naturally comes out in her efforts for the women movement. She draws Olive Chancellor, her best friend, in with her mesmerizing power. So much so that when Basil appears in the novel and starts courting Verena, she becomes very protective. Basil too is hypnotized by Verena and her hidden powers. James contrasts the two characters, Dr. Tarrant and his daughter Verena. Olive and Basil love Verena, but they dislike her father. It seems odd that they would dislike the father of the one that they hold dear, especially with all the same characteristics that they share. They are, in essence, both practicing the same type of medicine. They are using the subconscious to achieve their goals. The only difference is that Dr. Tarrant openly practices it while Verena uses the same power with knowingly accepting it. Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall is a look at the author’s own real life experiences. She just changes the name of the characters to hide their identities. The most interesting aspect of her book is the fact that she includes the lowers class women in her fight for women’s rights. Very few women activists included the lower classes in their strives for equality. Fanny Fern, another American writer was way before her time in this aspect.
The middle-class women constituted most of the leaders of the women’s movement, and so their concerns were put in the forefront. Very little thought was given to the women who worked in the sweatshops or the factories during the nineteenth-century. Fanny does not seem to differentiate between the classes when it comes to the movement. She might be considered the founder of the lower-class women’s movement. But then again, there was no reason why middle class women should fight for the lower-class women’s rights when they thought that they were not their equals. The reader also gets a sense of what type of person Fanny was. She seems very outspoken and not too worried about conforming to the norms of the times. That could explain why she was not only fighting for the middle-class women’s rights, but the rights of all women, rich or poor, ugly or pretty, it made no difference to her. As long as some rights were gained it was a victory.
The nineteenth-century was also not an easy time for women writers. Most had to conform to society and not rock the boat. But Fanny Fern seems to stretch these rules to the limit. She can get her point across effectively while not upsetting the standards set out for them.
Both of these books, The Bostonians, and Ruth Hall, were easy to read and understand. However, The Bostonians was much longer than it needed to be. The underlying themes in these books are what make them interesting. James, with his fascination of spiritualism, and Fern with her introduction of women’s rights for all classes are very interesting because they show the real views of people at the time in the form of a story. Without the underlying theme in The Bostonians, I would have found the book a little drawn out and boring. But Ruth Hall, I found very interesting. It was Fern’s look at her life and all the issues surrounding her movement that kept me entranced.