Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Clubs, politics, and so-called reform in The Late George Apley
The sorrow of the life of The Late George Apley continue, as Marquand's narrator, Willing, recounts Apley's purchase of Pequod Island, on one of the lakes in Maine, which he envisions as a camping retreat but that in a few years becomes a wilderness camp for his family, in-laws, and the Boston set - the very people he was hoping he could get away from, if only for a short time. As is typical of this novel, the narrator has no idea of the significance of the episodes in Apley's life and Apley himself, ever affable and pliant, just shrugs his shoulders and move on - this is what life's about, and he accepts it. Next Apley gets involved in politics, both "club" politics and city politics. Club first: a strange episode in which Apley stands up, for once, and opposes the admittance of a new member to the club on the grounds that he is entering in order to make business contacts and not for the purely social environment of this exclusive men's club. Hm, it strikes me that the guy he's trying (unsuccessfully) to black ball is joining the club because he brought a lot of NY business to the Boston banking world. Obviously there's a sense that Boston is old money - nobody really has to work too hard to make (or maintain) a living - and that NY is more about hustle and connections. Is there also a sense that the new member is Jewish? Apley takes a stand, but it's kind of a ridiculous battle to fight and he loses. Then he gets involved with a political committee formed to design the rebuilding of Comm Ave - a lot of $ involved in that - and he's appalled at the petty (or not so petty) corruption he sees - and none of the other committee members even listen to him, making it plain that he's there for show and image. So he becomes involved in a Save Boston reform movement - to the horror of his family, why should an Apley stoop? - but again there's a lot of ambiguity: On the one hand, yes, fighting municipal corruption is a noble cause, but also there's the sense that this is old Boston losing control to the rising Irish political class. The Boston Brahmins were corrupt in their own way - they're all about charity and so forth, but everything on their terms, and through their clubs, foundations, and institutions. The reform movement was as much about power as it was about ideals.