Pragmatic Realism in The Bostonians (1962)
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Some recent readers of The Bostonians, Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe for example, have stressed the novel’s political aspects. Henry James himself would seem to have invited such an emphasis when he said that he wished to write ‘a very American tale’1 dealing with our peculiar social conditions, especially with the decline in the ‘sentiment of sex’. Sex and politics, certainly, are everywhere in the novel. The way that they are there, however, urges a consideration of moral and philosophical matters that describe a larger framework than a sexual and political one in which to examine James’s intention and attitude. Public and private experience are both dealt with by the novelist as complementary aspects of what he perceived as a uniquely American conduct of life; and it is this conduct, dramatically focused in a conflict among characters who, James said, were evolved from his ‘moral consciousness’,2 that is the subject of The Bostonians.3
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