Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Unlike many of Henry James’s novels, The Bostonians is set in the United States. Its female characters are involved in the reform movement that swept New England during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the novel, James presents compelling but not sympathetic characters. A central figure in the reform movement is Olive Chancellor, a proponent of women’s rights, a movement upon which her identity is based. Presumably, American educator Elizabeth Peabody was James’s prototype for Olive. Olive is inspired by Miss Birdseye, an abolitionist in her eighties, and seeks to become a force in the women’s reform movement.
Lacking the articulateness required to be a successful spokesperson, Olive latches onto Verena Tarrant, an attractive but docile young woman who has received some public notice on account of her association with her mesmerist father’s public performances. Olive liberates Verena from her squalid surroundings, bringing her to the Beacon Street house in which she lives.
Verena, never encouraged to find her own identity in a world dominated by men, becomes the mouthpiece through which Olive can communicate her ideas of reform to audiences. Verena tries to remain loyal to Olive, who tyrannizes her. The two live together, travel together, and move toward sharing a single identity, one constructed wholly by Olive. Olive, if viewed in the light of modern psychoanalytical theory, has a lesbian attraction to the...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Olive Chancellor, a Boston activist in the women’s movement, is entertaining her cousin Basil Ransom, a Mississippian who lives in New York City. She invites him to join her at a gathering at the home of Miss Birdseye, a leader in the movement. Though he disagrees with the ideals of the feminists, Ransom accepts, partly out of curiosity and partly to meet Mrs. Farrinder, a national spokesperson for women’s rights. At Miss Birdseye’s, Ransom expresses his views on the movement to Dr. Prance, a woman who is successful in a traditionally male profession. Olive, becoming aware that Ransom opposes all she stands for, develops a strong animosity toward her cousin.
In attendance also at Miss Birdseye’s are the Tarrants, a family supported by the father’s lectures on mesmerism; the Tarrants claim that their daughter Verena has a special gift for oratory, and they persuade Miss Birdseye to let her speak to the group about the women’s movement. Everyone is captivated by Verena’s performance. Olive immediately recognizes that the young woman has a future as a public figure promoting women’s rights. Ransom is smitten with Verena’s beauty and charm. Both speak briefly to Verena after her performance.
Ransom is forced to return immediately to New York, but Olive goes to the Tarrants’ home in Cambridge on the following day to try to persuade Verena to become active in the women’s movement in Boston. The Tarrants are anxious to comply,...
(The entire section is 955 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis
Basil Ransom has come to Boston in order to visit his cousin, Olive Chancellor. Originally from Mississippi, Basil left his financial holdings in the hands of his mother and sister and moved to New York City, eventually becoming a lawyer. On his arrival at Olive’s home, he is met by Mrs. Luna (Adeline), Olive’s sister. Greeting him very familiarly, Mrs. Luna tells Basil that Olive will be down in around ten minutes. Olive would not give an exact time, because she was not sure she could be exact, and did not want to lie. Mrs. Luna’s indication, according to Basil, is that she herself would fib at some point in time. Basil states that he pretends not to prevaricate.
Olive is on her way to a meeting. Mrs. Luna informs Basil that her sister is a “roaring radical.” Basil is concerned, since he has little interest in "reform" as practiced in the North. Mrs. Luna, however, says that the problem is not Boston itself; it is just Olive. Shocked that he does not already know, Mrs. Luna informs Basil that she lived in Europe for several years after her husband's death. She has now returned to America with her son, Newton.
At this point, Olive Chancellor enters the room. Mrs. Luna tells her to reform Basil, as someone from Mississippi is sure to be all wrong. Leaving to attend a theatre-party, she suggests on her way out that Olive take Basil to Olive's “female convention.”
The narrator reveals himself to be informed about the “occult." He reveals that Mrs. Luna is “personal,” implying that she keeps to herself and does not involve herself in anyone else’s interests. As for Olive, Basil can see that she is a person “who takes things hard.” He is not impressed with her feminist proclivities: he believes that women should be private and leave publicity to the men. Yet Olive is always on the lookout for duties to perform. It is for this reason she contacted Basil when she found that her Southern cousin had moved North. She invited him to visit the first chance that his business brought him to Boston. She knew that during the Civil War her mother had wanted to send money or clothes to their Southern relations, but did not know if such gifts would be appreciated. Her mother having failed to do this, Olive wants to correct the lapse by doing what she can for Basil.
With the introduction of two of the main characters,...
(The entire section is 880 words.)
Chapters 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis
At dinner with Olive, Basil Ransom observes that her home is decorated in the sense of “organised privacy.” He believes this organization, and this privacy, are the signature characteristics of Boston and that Olive Chancellor is the epitome of the unmarried woman. Just as Olive has a public vision of reform, Basil has a private vision, to reform the reformers.
Olive had invited Basil to attend with her a meeting at the home of Miss Birdseye, an pre-Civil War abolitionist and one of the leading reformers for women’s rights. Now, however, having come to know him a bit better, Olive regrets asking him, as she is fairly sure that he will not be sympathetic. She asks him if he does not care about human progress. He replies that he has not seen enough progress to be able to judge. She tells him that at the meeting he will encounter people pleading the cause of the “new truths,” to which he replies that he has never encountered any but the old truths.
Olive tries to be blunt and disagreeable so that he will change his mind about going, but she cannot shake him off. She asks him again if he is against the emancipation of women. He says that he will wait to answer after he has heard Mrs. Farrinder, the speaker whom they are going to hear at Miss Birdseye’s home.
Miss Birdseye lives in a mansion that she shares with many inhabitants. The furnishings are sparse, as Miss Birdseye has no money, nor has she ever had any. She is dressed in a short skirt, being a member of the “Short-Skirts League,” a group that advocates dress reform for women. Before she was involved in the emancipation of women, she had been involved in the emancipation of slaves. She is a person who had to emancipate someone.
The sparseness of Miss Birdseye's home is troublesome to Olive Chancellor, who, despite her focus on serving others, nevertheless maintains a taste for the finer things. As Mrs. Farrinder arrives, it is obvious that the two reformers share the same taste in opposition to their hostess. Miss Farrinder is a woman who lives for the public eye.
Doctor Prance, a resident of the Birdseye mansion, arrives. She hopes that she will not be “expected to generalise in any way.” Obviously she is favor of the emancipation of women, but she does not seem to be passionate about the cause in general. Finally, Doctor Tarrant, a mesmeric healer, arrives...
(The entire section is 869 words.)
Chapters 5 and 6 Summary and Analysis
Although she is the central focus of the gathering, Mrs. Farrinder does not feel like addressing the group. She says that she wants to sit back and hear what others have to say. She suggests that Olive Chancellor should speak. Olive has mixed feelings. She notices that as grand as Mrs. Farrinder is, she has an edge of unfamiliarity with Boston society that grates on Olive’s nerves. She seems “provincial,” and not quite of the greater world as her position in society dictates. Olive feels that she herself has a significant advantage in dealing with the higher social class. She wants desperately to help the lowest class and to find some poor girl to help. However, the shop girls with whom she is acquainted seem to be obsessed with a young man named Charlie. They do not seem open to Olive’s help.
As Mrs. Farrinder sends out the call for fellow-laborers, Olive grieves silently that she cannot talk to the people as Mrs. Farrinder had asked. She wants to enter into the lives of lonely women and to help them individually, but she cannot get up to speak publicly. Mrs. Farrinder asks what she has to give. All Olive has to offer is money, so Mrs. Farrinder suggests she give regular financial support to the cause. Olive sees Miss Birdseye who, although shabby, has given so much to the causes she supports.
Miss Birdseye observes the guests at her gathering. She focuses on Basil Ransom and thinks that he might be bored. She thinks that she must introduce him to Mrs. Farrinder, although he is not in sympathy with her views. Doctor Prance also seems bored. Miss Birdseye sees that the doctor probably regrets having agreed to come to the meeting.
The viewpoint shifts to that of Basil Ransom, who has also noticed Doctor Prance. To him, she looks like the typical “Yankee woman” he grew up visualizing: spare, dry, and hard. He thinks she looks like a boy, with very little to redeem her physically except an intelligent eye. He asks her if she knows Mrs. Farrinder. Doctor Prance says she knows women like her. Obviously, unlike the other guests, she is not a fierce fighter for the rights of women. She believes that men and women are about the same and that both genders could do much in the way of improving themselves.
Olive begins to wonder if the meeting will ever start, since Mrs. Farrinder is reluctant to speak, despite the fact that she is the reason everyone has...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
Chapters 7 and 8 Summary and Analysis
With some trepidation, Olive takes Basil to meet Mrs. Farrinder. She knows that the two are on opposite poles of the reform issue. Mrs. Farrinder invites him to speak to the gathering on the situation of women in the South, but horrified by the thought, he declines. Mrs. Farrinder claims that the South is closed to the reformists and that she had been advised to avoid going there to speak. Verena Tarrant says that she had some success in St. Louis recently, but, as one of the ladies argues, that is hardly the South. Verena is introduced to Mrs. Farrinder and is almost overcome with emotion upon meeting her idol. Mr. Pardon, a young magazine writer, says that Verena speaks marvelously and quite originally. Mrs. Farrinder invites Verena to speak to the gathering. Verena asks that Mrs. Farrinder speak first, to set the atmosphere, but Mrs. Farrinder says there is no atmosphere about her. Verena serves as the mouthpiece of some other source of inspiration, sparked by her father’s laying on of hands. She herself has no control over her words, she says. Mrs. Farrinder says that she will speak after Verena, and if she and her father are humbugs, she will expose them.
As Verena goes to the front of the group, joined by her father and mother, Basil is filled with disgust at Dr. Tarrant’s performance. He sees him as a charlatan, a “carpet-bagger,” the “cheapest kind of human product.” Basil cannot believe that such a beautiful and innocent creature as Verena is the offspring of such a person.
As far as Verena’s personal appearance goes, Basil sees what Doctor Prance meant when he referred to her as anemic. She is pale, with the paleness highlighted by her red hair. She is dress in light brown and yellow clothing, with red accessories, which provides a vivid contrast to the drabness of the rest of the audience. She sits on a chair given to her by her mother, and her father places his hands on her. Gesticulating wildly, her father intends to bring on the spirit of eloquence that has made Verena such a showcase in the women’s rights movement.
Eventually Verena rises, seemingly under the spell of some spirit of semi-prophecy, She says that history has been filled with the depredations of men against women, but that the female half of the world is soon to see its ascendancy. Basil is overcome by her purity and beauty, although he is unconcerned with her message. At the end...
(The entire section is 932 words.)
Chapters 9 and 10 Summary and Analysis
After Verena’s “performance,” the entire crowd is spellbound, including Mrs. Farrinder. Basil asks Miss Birdseye if she would introduce him to Verena. Miss Birdseye agrees. She is pleased that Basil is impressed. However, at this moment Olive announces that she has to leave, claiming to feel unwell. Ransom is disappointed, as he feels obliged to leave with Olive. He asks her if she is really willing to miss the chance to hear Mrs. Farrinder speak. Mrs. Farrinder herself asks Olive to stay. She begs her to remember Beacon Street, as if Olive is a missionary of the women’s movement to the elite of Boston. Olive declares fiercely that she is sick of the elite and bids good-bye to everyone. Before she leaves, however, Olive asks Verena to come to see her. Verena gratefully agrees. She tells Basil that, since her hackney-coach does not go near his hotel, he is not required to ride with her. Basil thinks for a moment of re-entering the house to see Verena again, but he decides instead to get a drink at some nearby establishment.
At her mother’s insistence, Verena goes to visit Olive the next day. For her part, Mrs. Tarrant sees a relationship with Olive not as a way to expand the women’s movement, but as a means to move in higher social circles. As the daughter of the well-known abolitionist, Abraham Greenstreet, Mrs. Tarrant had grown up in the intelligent society of Boston. The appearance of Selah Tarrant at her father’s door as a pencil vendor sparked the relationship that ended with Mrs. Tarrant finding herself married to the much lower class Selah. At first, Mrs. Tarrant found the life of near-poverty novel, but when her father died and left her very little, she began to look differently at her married life.
Eventually, Mrs. Tarrant comes to despise the weakness in her husband, and is somewhat dismayed to find her daughter following in his footsteps. She has wanted much more for Verena, and thus she is encouraging her to reach out to Olive, hoping to get her out of the business with her father and into a more respectable circle of Boston society.
In these two chapters, the lives of Olive Chancellor and Mrs. Tarrant are examined as people who fight for women’s rights. However, they are not typical of the other characters in the movement. Olive, although overcome by Verena’s performance before the gathering, cannot...
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Chapters 11 and 12 Summary and Analysis
Verena goes to visit Olive as her mother suggested. Olive feels she had known with a divine certainty that she would come, as surely as she had known that, if she proceeded to take Basil with her to Miss Birdseye’s home, she was crossing a threshold and drawing some harm onto herself.
Verena wears a jacket with large gilt buttons, an outfit she thinks is remarkably attractive, but which Olive finds vulgar. Olive immediately overwhelms Verena with her passionate desire for someone with whom she might have a female “union of soul.” Verena tells Olive that perhaps she likes her too much, to which Olive agrees. Olive bluntly tells Verena that she does not want to know Mr. and Mrs. Tarrant, only their daughter. Verena thinks that Olive wants her to give up her speaking, but Olive definitely does not. Verena wonders later that she was not afraid of Olive’s obvious obsessions, especially when Olive asks her to come to live with her. Verena states that she must stay with her parents, although she is obviously fascinated with Olive’s opulent lifestyle and wealth. Olive persists, creating visions for Verena of pleasant evenings at home, learning German and reading Goethe together. As she makes this proposal, Basil Ransom enters.
At Basil’s entrance, Verena announces that, since another guest has arrived, she must go. Basil is exceptionally pleased to find himself once again in Verena’s presence. He begs her to stay, attempting to draft Olive into his plea. He asks her if she, as a member of the women’s rights movement, flees before the “individual male.” Verena states that she likes him as an “individual.” The two begin to discuss the tenets of the movement, with Basil claiming that women have always been at the bottom of everything in history, although Verena argues that women want to be at the top. He attempts to point out that many, if not most, wars have significantly involved women. Verena proposes that the two of them ought to go on the speaker’s stage together, as “poison and antidote.”
Basil asks to see her again, and Verena vaguely invites him to visit her in her home. But since Basil is returning to New York the next day, he asks her to come to speak in New York. Verena says she would like to speak in the biggest city. Olive, somewhat on the sidelines, decides that it is best that Verena leave to get her away from Basil. She escorts Verena to the...
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Chapters 13 and 14 Summary and Analysis
Verena goes to Olive’s home frequently, with her mother’s encouragement and often with her mother. Mrs. Tarrant sees the opportunities that might come with Verena’s association with one of the upper class of Boston society. While Mrs. Tarrant hopes that Verena will some day get married to someone in the public eye, she sees the advantage of having a close friendship with a woman such as Olive Chancellor, who has money and who is interested in reform. She sees that, although Verena may be married, she might want a place to serve as a type of retreat, or in fact to be a second home.
Verena has at last come to value Olive’s companionship. Although she was at first a bit put off by Olive’s enthusiasms, she now has an intense admiration for the woman. Verena realizes that if Olive were not so afraid of speaking in public, she could surpass her in being a spokeswoman for the reform movement. She recognizes the differences in their personalities: Verena is serene while Olive is emotional.
As for Mr. Tarrant, he sees possibilities in his daughter’s new friendship with Olive; not for Verena but for himself. While he believes in his daughter’s gift of speaking, he sees it merely as a way to open doors for him. He is willing to push Verena into the limelight as long as some of the light reflects on him. He hangs around publishers’ offices, hoping to be interviewed and thus gain publicity for himself and his own views. The fact that he is never interviewed spurs him on to exact his “revenge” by making his daughter famous in Boston society.
Mrs. Tarrant wants desperately for Olive to come to her home in Cambridge, believing that such a visit would help her to rise once more in Boston society. She has been invited several times by Verena when she goes to visit her, but has as yet failed to make an appearance. She despises Mr. and Mrs. Tarrant as people who have a higher claim on Verena than Olive does herself. She consents eventually, however, and Mrs. Tarrant also invites Matthias Pardon, the white-haired newspaper writer. Olive is disgusted by the Tarrants’ home, yet it pleases her for the simple reason that it gives her more leverage in convincing Verena to leave it to come to live with her. Olive rebuffs Mrs. Tarrant’s attempts at conversation about the “principal ladies” of various communities, even though she is conscious of the many fibs she has told...
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Chapters 15 and 16 Summary and Analysis
As Olive dines with the Tarrants, she becomes increasingly aware of the shabby life that her protégé, Verena, must suffer. The unattractive house is located on a dilapidated street; little has been done in the way of improvements. She is more in awe of the fact that two such despicable characters should produce such as marvel as Verena. She hates the thought that Mr. Tarrant must lay his hands on Verena in order for her to perform, although Verena insinuated that it was for his benefit rather than for hers.
She observes a fellow guest, Mr. Pardon, the magazine writer, who strikes her as odd but dangerous, as in a threat to her relationship with Verena. He has evidently accompanied Verena to the theater at times, so says Verena, which does not upset Olive too much, as she remembers doing the same when her parents died. Two newcomers have also arrived to visit: Mr. Gracie and Mr. Burrage, two law students at nearby Harvard College. Mr. Gracie had brought Mr. Burrage specifically to see Verena. As Mr. Tarrant is relegated to passing around cake to the guests, Olive contemplates the possibility that Verena would succumb to the attentions of one of the students, or to any other student for that matter. She remembers that Verena has said that she believed in “free unions” (that is, free love), but Olive is not sure that Verena knows exactly what that entails. She believes that so far Verena has preserved her innocence, but Olive fears that she may become the victim of some student who is looking for “sensations.”
Mr. Pardon, seems to be left out of the company of Verena and the two young law students, so he instead talks to Olive, who is not as impressed with the magazine man as she was led to believe that she would be. Despite his white hair, he is only twenty-eight, but is socially awkward.
Selah Tarrant views Mr. Pardon as acceptable marriage material for his daughter, however. He sees advantage in having a reporter as the husband of such a performer as Verena, functioning not only as a chronicler of her talents, but also as her manager.
As Mr. Pardon bores Olive with endless talk about things he knows little of, she notices that she has been cut off from Verena by the two young men. She is uncomfortable when the talk turns to showcasing Verena’s talent in a larger venue, such as the Music Hall. She learns from Mr. Pardon that Verena does indeed want to...
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Chapters 17 and 18 Summary and Analysis
At their next meeting, Verena states that she is now ready to promise Olive that she will not marry. However, Olive has now changed her mind about forcing a promise out of Verena, and tells her that she is going through a phase now, when young men might show an interest in her. It is up to Verena to decide what she wants for her future as far as matrimony is concerned. Olive does not want to make the choice for her own sake. Although she believes that the two of them are called to service, just as celibate priests are, she will leave that decision up to Verena. Verena is impressed with Olive’s speech and states that she could sway audiences if she would just let herself go. But Olive cannot do that, and so is content with being in the background. In the end, Verena promises that she will not marry any of the three men that were at her home, but Olive simply asks her not to marry someone she does not like.
After some time has passed, Olive is subjected to a visit from Mr. Pardon. She is offended that a man would come to her door without first requesting permission to see her. She does not like the reporter, whose business it is to bring the private out before the public. Mr. Pardon has come to see her in hopes that the two of them may join forces in managing Verena’s career as a public speaker. Olive is cynical and asks Mr. Pardon how much money he thinks he can make out of the deal. Mr. Pardon states that he can make thousands for Verena, considering that her career may last at least ten years. At Olive’s question as to how much he thinks he can make for himself, he says that he is simply interested in emancipating women worldwide. Olive tells him in no uncertain terms that she is not interested and shows him to the door. He makes threats that as a magazine writer he may make her unpopular in the eye of the public. She is not worried about what a man may say about her, believing that disparaging her reputation will only serve to make her a martyr.
A week later, Verena tells Olive that Mr. Pardon proposed marriage to her, and that she had refused him. She tries to tell Olive how much she is giving up, since Mr. Pardon spoke to her of how, with she as his wife and him as her manager, she would be famous and they would travel across the country.
Mr. Burrage has come frequently to the Tarrant home in Cambridge. He speaks of his many collections that he has gathered from...
(The entire section is 933 words.)
Chapters 19 and 20 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Luna, Olive’s sister, writes from her new home in New York that she is turning over her legal affairs to Basil Ransom, with whom she is also evidently trying to develop a more personal relationship. She is considering asking him to give up his law career and become the tutor of her son, Newton. Olive thinks this is typical of her sister, that people would go out of their way to accede to her need for special arrangements. Olive is content that the two are together and out of her way. She has little love for her sister, and little respect for her cousin. In addition, Olive’s life is taking a turn for the better, as Verena has now come to live with her.
Olive had been enthralled by Mrs. Farrinder, who was the leader of the women’s rights movement in Boston, but since Mrs. Farrinder has decided that she does not want to use Verena as a prominent speaker in the movement, dismissing her gifts as commonplace, Olive has lessened her esteem for her. From being an admirer to now being a competitor, Olive rejoices that Mrs. Farrinder will be touring the country for some months.
After Verena has lived with Olive for some time, Olive summons Mr. Tarrant to her home. She offers him a large sum of money for his agreement that he and his wife will stay away from Verena for a year, with the promise of more money at the end of that time should the arrangements still be satisfactory for the two young women. Mr. Tarrant takes the money. He justifies this by convincing himself that Olive will help to develop Verena’s character and gift, although Olive is cynical about this being his real reason.
Mrs. Tarrant tries to become accustomed to Verena’s absence, although she would rather have the money than her daughter’s presence. Mr. Burrage proposes to Verena, but she refuses him as she did Mr. Pardon. Olive sees Mr. Burrage’s proposal as just an attempt to add to his collection of interesting objects, not out of any sincere love for Verena, and perhaps of interesting experiences to relate, specifically of the times when he has been refused by a pretty girl. He returns to New York, where his mother is irate that the daughter of a mesmeric healer had the effrontery to refuse her son.
Verena’s and Olive’s life together is eminently satisfactory to both of them. Olive plans for a year’s sojourn in Europe, despite her doubt that there is anything of moral...
(The entire section is 955 words.)
Chapters 21 and 22 Summary and Analysis
Basil Ransom has not found the success in the law profession as he had hoped. A year after his trip to Boston, he is living in a two-room tenement, has very few cases and little luck with those. He has come close to deciding that he cannot make a living, in New York and definitely not in Mississippi. Despite his difficulties, he is tries to send money home to his family, who are living closer to destitution. He is not sure if it is his Southern accent or his ability that is putting people off. He spends his time reading politics and history, with the hopes of writing some news articles on the subject. He has many ideas that he wants to make public, but he has no success; in fact, he is told that his ideas are several centuries behind the times. He is not a strong believer in the benefits of democracy on civilization.
Basil receives a letter from Adeline Luna, Olive’s sister, asking why he has been neglecting her. Basil has no interest in pursuing that relationship, especially since he gave up tutoring Mrs. Luna’s son, Newton, who was spoiled and impossible. Nevertheless, he decides to go to see her. She has expressed similar convictions that match his own, not being a fan of American culture and its crudeness and crassness, so he is wondering what she has in mind for him now, though he suspects that she is trying to entrap him into marriage.
As Basil visits Mrs. Luna, sitting by her fireside, he is struck at the pleasantness of the situation. He almost convinces himself that he would be willing to marry her, until she speaks, seeming to guess what he was thinking. He turns the conversation by asking her how long her sister Olive intends to remain in Europe. Mrs. Luna announces that she has been home for six weeks, having spent over a year traveling around the Continent, taking Verena with her. As soon as she says Verena’s name, Basil remembers his fascination with her. He discovers that Olive took her to Europe, according to Mrs. Luna, to broaden her mind as well as get her away from the male callers in Boston. Verena had been a huge success at the Female Convention the previous year, but Basil had heard nothing about it and felt cheated. Mrs. Luna says that she supposes he wants her to go with him to Boston, but Basil declines. She then states that perhaps she will have Verena come to New York instead, so at least Basil will come to Mrs. Luna’s home. Basil rejects this offer as...
(The entire section is 892 words.)
Chapters 23 and 24 Summary and Analysis
As luck would have it, Basil is called to Boston for several days to attend to some legal business. Being busy at first, it is not until the fourth day that he makes an attempt to see Verena. He decides he does not want to visit her at Olive’s home on Charles Street, as he knows that Olive has nothing but contempt for him. Wandering around town, he hopes to see some sign indicating that she is giving one of her speeches, but he sees none. Remembering that Verena had invited him to visit her in her home in Cambridge, he decides to try there, but he does not know the exact street. On his way to Cambridge he passes by Olive’s house and considers ringing at the door to ask the servant the Tarrants' address. As he ponders his decision, Miss Birdseye exits the door to catch a street car. He accosts her and reintroduces himself, offering to accompany her on the way. She states that she knows Boston well, so she does not see how a Southern gentleman can help her, but he insists (his plan being to find out discreetly the Tarrants’ address). She vaguely remembers him, mostly as one who does not sympathize with her views. Basil insists that he thinks that Verena may sway him. At last Miss Birdseye remembers the name of the street before she leaves him to take another street car.
At the Tarrants’ residence, Basil is kept waiting for some time as Verena rushes around getting herself more presentable to see him. At last she descends, and Basil is struck my how much she has matured in the year and a half since he has seen her. They discuss her success, although he admits that he still has not changed his views concerning the rights of women. She is not offended, since she has had many gentleman callers who have held his views. She is surprised and a bit flattered when she learns that he came to Cambridge specifically to see her, although she is concerned that he has not seen Olive at all and does not intend to do so. She realizes that she must keep this visit a secret from Olive. As Basil rises to leave, she offers to show him around the grounds at Harvard University. She is struck by the fact that she has become quite nervous; it signifies an interest in a gentleman that she has not previously shown. Basil realizes the significance and quickly accepts her offer.
In his intentional visit to Cambridge for the sole purpose of seeing Verena Tarrant, Basil has...
(The entire section is 890 words.)
Chapters 25 and 26 Summary and Analysis
As Basil and Verena walk toward Harvard College, Basil notices the houses go from shabby wooden shacks to more elaborately decorated homes, complete with brick pavements and house numbers. Basil asks Verena about the women’s convention, but she doubts his true interest since he is against the reform movement. He says that he does not like it and he fears it. He sees that she was excited to be a part of it and mentions that she would miss it if she “returned to the ancient fold,” meaning to his own beliefs concerning women’s role in society. He feels angry at the thought of Verena involved with people whom he refers to as “carpet-baggers,” which, to the Southern mind, are a particularly heinous group of interfering individuals. However, Verena says that she is ecstatic to be of some use, which is her sole purpose in life.
As Basil tours the grounds of Harvard College, he is overcome by the feeling that this is where he should have been. The depths of knowledge evident in the atmosphere of Harvard strike a chord of regret for a lost opportunity. To Verena, Harvard is a symbol of the “antiquated mindset” that subjugated the women and minorities, but to Basil it represents all that is true.
Verena states that she must tell Olive of their visit, although Miss Birdseye had promised to give Basil a chance to be converted by Verena in private. Verena, however, now feels uncomfortable in keeping this from Olive. Basil leaves, knowing that if she does inform his cousin, he will surely hear about it from Mrs. Luna when he returns to New York.
Basil receives an invitation to a gathering at the home of Mrs. Henry Burrage (the mother of Mr. Burrage, who was one of Verena’s suitors the previous year). He is nonplussed as to why he received the invitation until he sees that the purpose is to hear an address by Miss Verena Tarrant. Obviously, Verena had requested the invitation to be sent.
At the Burrage home, Basil sees that the attendees are not the usual crowd of reformers, but some of New York's elite society. He sees Olive Chancellor looking at him, although she looks away when her glance catches his. Not knowing whether she is shunning him or is just being shy, he decides on the latter reason and goes to speak to her. She is here to accompany Verena, although she clearly feels uncomfortable in such surroundings, despite her own wealth. Through the...
(The entire section is 899 words.)
Chapters 27 and 28 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Luna confronts Basil, asking him why he is at Mrs. Burrage’s gathering. In reply, Basil asks Mrs. Luna why she has come. He knows it could not be for his sake, since she did not know that he was coming. She says that she assumed that he would be here because Miss Tarrant would be speaking. She herself has no interest in the “chatterbox,” so he is indeed her reason for coming. Basil states that he supposes that Olives asked that an invitation be sent to him, but Mrs. Luna knows how her sister feels about their cousin, so this is unlikely.
Mrs. Luna obviously will not let him go, although he desperately wants to hear Verena speak. She guesses that, and so keeps him by her side. Basil, being a Southern gentleman, cannot leave a lady’s side until another gentleman has come to take his place, but all the other gentlemen are in the next room listening to Verena, who has begun her speech.
Mrs. Luna informs him that this gathering is called the Wednesday Club, a group of New York people who want to be as intellectual as they perceive Boston to be. They meet weekly to listen to some cultural presentation. Mrs. Luna assumes that Mrs. Burrage's son is the instigator of the Verena's invitation to speak, as he is a Harvard student and has been visiting Verena in Cambridge frequently. Basil identifies him as the young man in the white vest who came to escort Olive to her seat before the speech began.
Basil clearly wants to break free from Mrs. Luna, although he cannot do so in any polite way in accordance with his Southern rearing. He is surprised that she cannot see that, by her behavior, she is making him hate her. Eventually he succumbs to rudeness and leaves her. She is (or at least pretends to be) outraged, and expresses her disapproval loudly and then leaves.
As Verena begins to speak, Basil is struck once again by her beauty and the power of her voice. Yet he does not actually listen to the words, finding them of weak logical argument and based on emotion. He is still unconverted, yet he realizes that he is in love with Verena Tarrant. His brief conversation with her afterwards does little to bring them together, as Verena tells him that Miss Birdseye has hopes that the two of them will become a couple, for Basil’s own good. She asks Basil not to disillusion Miss Birdseye in her last remaining time, since she has such hopes of this. In talking with...
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Chapters 29 and 30 Summary and Analysis
The next morning, Mrs. Luna visits Olive in order to determine who exactly sent Basil Ransom the invitation to Mrs. Burrage’s gathering the night before. Olive denies that she had been the one to invite him. Mrs. Luna knows how she feels about him now, but at the beginning she was the one who brought him into their lives. Olive believes that Mrs. Luna has come just to make herself disagreeable, but she admits that inviting Basil to call on her in Boston was a mistake, done simply because she believed her mother would have done so. She also thought that he and Mrs. Luna would have been married by now. Mrs. Luna acts shocked that Olive would think she would marry anyone just because he “hung around her.” The only other options as far as the previous night’s invitation are Mrs. Burrage or Verena. Mrs. Luna informs her sister that Basil had never met Mrs. Burrage, so it could not be she. Olive is certain that it could not be Verena, thinking that she has met Basil only twice before. Mrs. Luna, however, repeats to her Basil’s words from the previous evening, including the insinuation that he has seen Verena recently without Olive’s knowing it. Olive is shaken at this prospect. Mrs. Luna, sensing this, wants Olive to join her in preventing any further development of the relationship between Verena and Basil, but Olive does not want to be in collusion with her sister.
Olive regrets having come to New York when Verena considers staying with Mrs. Burrage for several days as Olive returns to Boston. Olive confronts Verena concerning the invitation that was sent to Basil. Verena confesses that she asked Mrs. Burrage to send him one, as he was a friend of hers in New York as Mrs. Burrage inquired. Verena also tells Olive that she did not tell her about the invitation because she knew how Olive felt about Basil and did not want to upset her. When asked how she found out his address, Verena says that it was included on a letter that Basil sent her on her return to America. Olive is dumbfounded that Verena has been communicating with a man she despises and moreover has kept all these secrets from her. When Olive says that she does not dislike Basil but dreads him, Verena offers to return with Olive to Boston the next day. Olive is grateful for the offer, but does not press the matter, as they are to have several visitors during the afternoon and a night on the town that evening.
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Chapters 31 and 32 Summary and Analysis
On the return of Olive and Verena to their hotel, they find a letter for each of them. Verena takes her letter to the privacy of her room, leaving the one for Olive on the hall table. She knows who it is from and what it is about, and this knowledge makes her feel treacherous in regards to Olive. It is from Basil, asking to meet her the next day. Talking to Olive, she tells her the contents of the letter, but says that, since they are returning to Boston the next day, it is of no consequence. Olive, however, says they need to return quickly, as her letter is from Mrs. Burrage, urging her to let Verena stay with her for a long visit in New York. Verena is eager to stay, but does not want to upset Olive, either with her remaining in New York or with seeing Basil Ransom. Olive says that the choice is up to her, which surprises Verena, as Olive had just stated how much she felt that Verena has done things behind her back. The ladies decide that they will stay; Verena is curious to hear “the other side” from Basil. She insists, however, that she has renounced marriage, and keeps insisting this is the case until she feels that at last Olive believes her.
The next day Basil comes, but he does not leave as quickly as Olive had planned. She leaves for Mrs. Burrage’s while he is still with Verena. She trusts Verena to keep their agreement made the previous evening, that is, that she would reject Basil and stay committed to the cause and decline marriage. As Olive speaks with Mrs. Burrage, the latter assumes that it is already decided that Verena will stay in New York with her for a protracted visit. What she wanted to speak to Olive about was her son, Henry Burrage, who still wants to marry Verena despite her refusal the year before. Mrs. Burrage wants Olive to refrain from interfering. She points out that, if Verena does not marry Henry, she will be open to the approaches of other suitors, especially ones that want to shut her up, while Henry would only provide her support in the cause that he has now embraced himself (or so his mother says). Olive knows that she is referring to Basil, and this makes her consider the advantages of Verena’s marriage into the Burrage family. She knows that the Burrages have more money than she, and will thus be able to provide more advantages for Verena to speak for the cause of women’s rights. More than that, however, Olive knows that by this marriage Basil will be...
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Chapters 33 and 34 Summary and Analysis
Basil asks Verena to come out for a walk with him. However, Verena is unwilling for some reason, although she realizes that in Cambridge she had no qualms about doing so. But at that time, it was she who did the asking; it is different somehow when it is Basil making the request. He says that he wants to show her New York just as she wanted to show him Harvard. More than anything, he does not want to face the possibility of seeing Olive Chancellor. Verena tells him that she has seen it; she went for a ride there the day before with a friend. Basil understands her to mean that the friend was Henry Burrage. He insists that he wants to say some very important things to her. Verena does not feel comfortable going out, as Olive herself has just left to go to Mrs. Burrage’s. Basil asks if she has no liberty at all; does Olive have such a tight leash on her that she cannot go out without Olive’s permission? He wants to point out that she went out with him in Cambridge without telling Olive, but he sees that he has made his point. Without a word, Verena gets ready to go with him.
As they walk through Central Park, Verena reflects on the fact that, at that moment, Olive is “disposing of her somehow at Mrs. Burrage’s.” As Basil talks once again about his disdain for the women’s rights movement; Verena silently muses on how opposite they are from each other. She was brought up to admire new ideas, but he was an “intense conservative.” Moreover, he was an angry conservative, seemingly bitter about the world he now lives in. Feeling sorry for him, she thinks about this walk being the last time they will talk together.
The conversation turns and Basil is the one defending his views. Verena asks him why he does not write out his ideas and get them published. This is an unconscious blow, as he has tried to do just that and failed. She feels that his inability to get published is somehow an injustice and encourages him to keep on writing, even giving him permission to attack her by name. He states that he will not do that as he does not wish to destroy women, but to keep men from being destroyed, as Olive Chancellor would have them be. He fears that instead of equality, it will be the same situation with the genders reversed. To him this is not progress. He says that what is agreeable to women must be agreeable to men. While he does not believe in the equality of women in the public...
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Chapters 35 and 36 Summary and Analysis
Spring has turned into summer. In August, Basil leaves the heat of New York for Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for the purpose of winning Verena Tarrant. As he walks to the nearest hotel on the beach, he is struck by the surroundings: nothing seems to be growing. It just as if everything has stopped at one moment in time. At the shabby hotel, he sees that there are very few other guests. In the evening, he goes for a walk on the beach and runs into Doctor Prance. She is staying with Olive and Verena. Miss Birdseye is also a guest, but her health is extremely poor.
Doctor Prance and Basil pick up their relationship where it had left off two years before. The met the night Verena Tarrant made her debut at the home of Miss Birdseye. She informs the Southerner that the group of women is here in Cape Cod so that Verena may practice for her engagement at the Music Hall in Boston, the largest entertainment outlet in the capital city. Doctor Prance admits that she has altered her views concerning reform. She also tells Basil that Miss Birdseye believes that he has been converted to their side in the matter of women’s rights. Basil has not talked to Miss Birdseye since she told him the way to the Tarrants’ home in Cambridge many months before. She believed then that Verena would be the means by which he would be converted to their cause, and Verena has given her no reason to doubt her success.
Not wanting to face the other women, Basil decides to wait to make his presence known. But the next morning he is less concerned and goes to the cottage regardless of who is there. The door is open and there is no one inside, but going through to the back veranda he spies Miss Birdseye sitting silently in a chair. Thinking she is asleep, Basil quietly goes out and waits for a response from her. Thinking he is Verena, she asks for her medicine. She is pleased on seeing who it is, hoping that he has come to see Olive, since he would not see her previously when he came to Boston. Soon Olive and Verena come home from the post office. Olive is obviously horrified that he is there. He asks to speak to Verena privately, and both Olive and Verena know what he intends to say. First of all, he informs her that he has sold one of his articles for publication. She is pleased with his success, even though she knows that it contains much of the argument against her views that he gave her the previous spring. A few...
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Chapters 37 and 38 Summary and Analysis
Basil stays at Cape Cod for a month. Each day he walks with Verena, which is the limit on which she has placed their contact. She despises his views on the reform movement as much as ever, and she relies on Olive to keep her from succumbing to Basil’s entreaties. She admits that she likes him more than any gentleman she knows, but she does not want to marry him. She wants to hate her liking of him. She regrets running away from New York and believes that she should have shown more moral courage by standing up to him. Olive notices this new maturity and strength about her friend.
Basil had planned his walk with Verena in New York to be his final attempt to win her. After that, he had planned to break off all contact with her, not wanting to bother her by his presence if she could not agree to be his wife. Yet his mind changes when he receives the letter from his editor concerning his article. He sees a future for himself, whereas before he did not think he would be able to find a place in this new world after the Civil War.
Olive is upset when Verena tells her that Basil fell in love with her the first night they met at Miss Birdseye. Olive insists that he does not love her; it is simply that he hates the reform movement and is using Verena to try to destroy it. Verena is not convinced, and she continues to walk each day with Basil. The only comfort that Olive has now is that there are no more secrets. She believes that knows the worst.
Unfortunately, Olive does not know the worst. There is a much larger secret that Verena keeps from her Basil has managed to convert Verena to his point of view. Although she still intends to give her speech at the Music Hall, she now believes that her future is as a conventional wife and mother (although Basil promises to let her get up on the dining-room table to speak, if she feels the need). As far as her celebrity status, she no longer believes what has made her famous for believing.
Returning from one of their walks, Basil and Verena are hurriedly summoned by Doctor Prance back into the cottage. Miss Birdseye is dying, and she has requested to see Basil one last time. Still thinking that Basil is now part of their cause, Miss Birdseye is glad to see that he and Verena will apparently be married in the near future. Basil is noncommittal in his comments about his views, merely stating that Miss Birdseye is an example of what...
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Chapters 39 and 40 Summary and Analysis
The next morning Basil meets Doctor Prance and discovers that Miss Birdseye passed away about an hour after he left. Doctor Prance is returning to Boston, as she has patients waiting for her. He receives a note from Verena, stating that he must not expect to see her for a few days. She want to be alone to think. She asks him to leave for a while, so he goes to nearby Provincetown. Eventually, he returns to the cottage. Verena comes out to tell him that it is impossible that the two of them should be together after all. Infuriated, Basil takes her out in a boat to talk to her alone.
Olive is calm in the face of this, knowing that Verena has once again vowed to stay with her. Yet as the day goes on and evening approaches, Verena’s continued absence disturbs her. She returns to the cottage to find Verena sitting in the dark. Nothing is said between them, but the next morning, when Basil comes to see Verena, Olive tells him that she is gone. He demands to know where she is; Olive refuses to tell him. Basil swears he will find out for himself and he leaves, with Olive’s maniacal laughter ringing in his ears.
Ten weeks later, Basil arrives in Boston, determined to find Verena. Her parents’ home is closed up. He goes to Olive’s home on Charles Street and learns that Mrs. Luna is there. Braving her sarcasm and her contempt, Basil asks her where Verena can be found. Mrs. Luna refuses to tell him anything about Verena, but insists on telling him about herself. She is returning to Europe, ostensibly for the betterment of her son Newton’s education. Basil could not care less, but he plays along, hoping to discover Verena’s location. Mr. Pardon arrives, hoping to find Verena there. He has been searching for her whereabouts in order to get information for the newspaper for which he is writing. He is intrusive and belligerent, trying to find any scrap of information that he can use in his article. Mrs. Luna threatens to come to his office and making a scene when he declares he will include information about her feelings about the reform movement and her return to Europe.
With Miss Birdseye’s death (and Mrs. Farrinder’s seeming disappearance in the wake of the newcomer), Verena is thrown into the position of figurehead of the women’s rights movement. She is thrown on her own resources and evidently does not have as many resources as she...
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Chapters 41 and 42 Summary and Analysis
For two hours, Basil walks around town, continually passing the Music Hall. Posters of Verena cover the outside, but there is no sign of Verena herself. He goes in and waits as the crowds fill up the immense auditorium. He goes backstage and asks that his card be sent to Verena with a request that he might see her before she begins to speak. The guard tells him that he is not allowed to let Basil in, on orders from Olive Chancellor. As he argues with the guard, Mr. Pardon comes backstage, also wanting to see Verena. He is turned away as well, as the time has now come for the program to start. Basil, hearing the organ music, tries to tell the guard that the organist is under orders to keep playing. He does not seem to quit, and Verena does not appear. Five minutes after the intended start time, the crowd becomes restless, stamping their feet and their umbrellas on the floor. Another five minutes passes. At last Verena’s father goes on stage, but the crowd does not want him, they want Verena. Mr. Tarrant announces that she will be out in a few minutes. Basil is convinced that Verena knows that he is out there and is waiting because of him. Mr. Filer, who is Olive’s agent, comes backstage to see what the delay is. He threatens to break down the door, which is locked from the inside.
In the midst of the backstage commotion, Verena opens the door and looks straight at Basil. She states that she had seen him standing at the back of the auditorium and could not go on because of nervousness due to his presence. Her father had called the police to stand guard to prevent him from entering her dressing room. Basil pleads with her to leave and to come with him. Verena wavers. Basil sees that Olive has thrown herself on Mrs. Tarrant’s lap, overcome with the emotion. Olive begs Basil not to take Verena and leave her with the shame of having to face the crowd to tell them that Verena will not be speaking. Verena throws her mother, along with Olive and the others, out of the room so that she may speak to Basil alone. Again, he begs her to come with him. Verena then gives up any pretense of holding to the views on which she was to speak that night. Covered in her hood and cloak, Verena leaves with Basil. Olive overcomes her shame and gets on stage to speak. Verena says that she is glad that it is over, but beneath her cloak she is crying. The narrator ends with the ominous statement that, with the marriage she...
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