So, I read Henry James' The Bostonians. As I said before, I am a literary masochist.
The Bostonians, circa 1886, is about Olive, a feminist who hates men "as a class, anyway", and her cousin Basil, who thinks women are subordinate to men. They battle it out for the affections of Verena, an agreeable young woman with a gift for public speaking. During the course of the book, Olive and Verena move in together. Yes, the Boston marriage, one of my favorite relationship structures, gets its name from this book. It's unclear weather Olive and Verena had a sexual relationship or not. While they kiss and hold each other, that's nothing many asexuals wouldn't do. While Olive is obviously wedded to the suffrage cause, she tries to get Verena to promise that she'll never marry a man. Although Olive loves Verena, she also knows that she can use Verena's gift of speaking for her own purposes. Olive's true motives are ambiguous, which makes The Bostonians one of those books that become more interesting upon further thought. What's clear, though, is that their relationship is heavily strained by Basil's advances. While I don't think it's much of a leap to label Olive as a lesbian or as homoromantic, I'm not sure if I could call her asexual. The social mores of the time probably kept her from being sexual with women, and whether or not she had the desire to do so is a mystery. (Spoilers ahead!) Verena is probably heterosexual, as she eventually succumbs to her sexual attraction to Basil. Olive and Verena's relationship doesn't end well, and it speaks to some benefits of our modern awareness of sexual orientation.
This might be the first book I've written about that I'm not sure if I'd recommend. While James has a way with (some) words, he doesn't seem to understand phenomena like paragraph separation and dialogue. The book is billed as a comedy, but I think I was laughing out of exhausted delirium.
What this book really got me thinking about was peoples' opinions vs. their characters. Verena hates Basil's opinions, but she likes his character (or maybe she just thinks he's hot). Olive's sister likes Basil's opinions and hates his character. The fact that people, at least in a Jamesian world, can be separated from their opinions comforts me when it comes to the infamous "Ignorant Masses" problem. Although, I find it hard to understand how Verena, an outspoken suffragist, could fall in love with a man who would force her to abandon her beliefs. Who could possibly be that attractive? If this happens in real life, I don't get it. Perhaps Verena's beliefs weren't all that strong to begin with-- another ambiguity of the story. She seems to love and hate Basil, whose main draw seems to be his infinite persistence. This brings me to another thing I don't understand, but is seen often in books and films: Infinite male persistence.
There's always a woman who isn't interested in a guy, but he chases her over months and even years until she finally gives in and falls in love with him. Does this actually happen? Wouldn't most people just give up? And isn't it a little strange not to, when you receive no encouragement whatsoever? Isn't this kind of persistence, which contains a large element of not caring what the other person thinks, a total turn-off? Ah yes, Mr. James, I have many questions...