What are some discussion questions for studying The Bostonians?

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One area of inquiry that is often fruitful with Henry James involves questions of characterization. How does James portray his characters? One might think in terms of painterly techniques, such as those of John Singer Sargent, who also sought to convey the quality of America's upper classes. James's earlier works (Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller: A Study) highlight the similarity between what James is doing and what portrait artists were doing at the time.

Henry's brother William is considered a formidable early psychologist, and his influence on the Modern writers was heavy. Henry was also exploring the human mind through his fiction, and this might be an interesting lens through which to view the characters in The Bostonians. The relationships among Basil, Olive, and Verena offer opportunities for reading between the lines to understand their less conscious motives and desires.

Some people considered Henry James a proto-Modernist. In this regard, exploring issues of his style might be useful for your analysis. James crafted sentences with care, offering psychological insight to the characters in given situations but also using syntax and style to construct a unique aesthetic. James is praised for the way his (often seemingly insignificant) stories can work their way into the readers' subconscious. Henry, in his later work, developed a stream-of-consciousness technique influenced by William's theories of the mind.

Questions about cultural difference between Basil (who represents Southerners) and Verena and Olive (Northerners) might offer insight into the period's post–Civil War factions.

The specific claims the novel's characters make regarding women and feminists during this suffragette period would also have a strong claim for reader's attention when discussing this novel.

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