Sunday, July 31, 2016
The incredibly sad and misunderstood life of George Apley
John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley, a fictional bio of a Boston Brahmin in which the narrator, a contemporary of the eponymous Apley, tells the life story mostly through surviving documents (letters, a diary, other notes and memoranda) with his interpolated commentary, remains one of the most sorrowful accounts of a man's life - largely because of the disjunction between what the obtuse Willing presents and what we can know and understand about Apley's life. Yesterday read the section covering his Harvard years and his European tour between graduation and law school. the narrator, Willing, tells of A's life at Harvard as a wonderful time when A became popular and engaged in numerous activities and made lifelong friends - but we can see, from the material he quotes, that Apley was constantly hounded by his parents to associate only with the right people, that his parents believe the entire purpose of his Harvard years was to get into the right club, the one his father (and fathers before him) had joined, pushing him not to work too hard - all of which reaches a culmination in Apley's falling in love with a girl from a prosperous but working-class Boston Irish family, a relationship that Apley's parents promptly crush. Willing has no understanding of this at all, and about allhe can do is praise Apley for being a "gentleman" and not "taking advantage of" this by all accounts lovely and intelligent young woman. The family sends Apley on a European tour (w/ aunt and uncle) when he's clearly despondent after graduation, and the sum of his observations, it seems, is to compare everything he sees in Europe w/ Boston - which Willing thinks show Apley's intelligence. The culmination is a little passage Apley wrote, looking up a country road in England, and wishing he could walk up that road and just be alone w/ his own thoughts - perhaps the most poignant and insightful things we've read from Apley so far, and Willing completely misses the point, has no comprehension of Apley's suffering and loneliness.