The Bostonians - Henry James Essay

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Question 'The most salient and peculiar point in our social life', James decided before writing The Bostonians, was 'the decline in the sentiment of sex'. Explain what you think he means by this phrase, and analyse his treatment of the idea in the novel. ‘The Bostonians’ by Henry James addresses an issue that was and indeed still is, of critical importance in society, the decline in the sentiment of sex. The novel addresses the rise of the feminist movement and, in such, the decline in specific gender roles. These gender roles once were the societal standards and expectations that a young man or woman aimed to live by. They could almost be described as characteristic guidelines that one could aim for; giving young people a sense of direction. (Eldridge, 2005) James’s three main characters Basil, Olive and Verena portray three separate identities of the feminist movement that became the unraveling of gender roles. Basil represents the role of men, Olive represents those women consumed by the feminist movement and Verena represents those women caught in the middle. (Habegger, 1969) What is missing in this portrayal is men post feminist movement and the effects it has had on them and women who wish to live by their feminine roots. In looking at the text however there are three major gender attitudes to be covered. The chauvinistic male, the feminist female and the directionally challenged woman. This is the basis for the message portrayed by ‘The Bostonians’. In order to understand the implications of this message, the three main characters can be analysed in terms of their particular role in society both in the time in which the novel was written and today’s society. This demonstrates that the decline in the sentiment of sex and the abolishment of gender roles is not necessarily as positive as it

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