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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Final thoughts on George Apley - born into the wrong generation

Last thoughts on John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley - at his (GA's) death you can't help but think of him as a well-meaning man born into a life of great privilege who tried in many ways to be honest and upright, generous to his community, loyal to friends and family, and you, or at least I, felt a sorrow and pity as GA in his last days writes long letters in which he laments that he has accomplished nothing in his life. I really want to like him, and I put much of the blame for his failure or his sense of failure on the controlling, domineering parents and on the smug self-satisfaction of his social set, from which he just can't break free. But that's only part of it: though he is generous to charities, to Harvard, to his clubs, and though he is in some ways a political reformer (fighting corruption in Boston politics), his last writing also show his pettiness and narrow-mindedness, the class-bound limitations on his point of view: for his funeral, for ex., he makes a big deal of having as pallbearers (honorary) his old Maine camp guide and a worker from the Apley Mills. As the otherwise uninspiring intro to the edition I read - from "the Editors of Time" - notes, he was of the set that believed in charity but fought to put down (sometimes violently) worker "uprisings." He assumed in every fiber that people got what they deserved, that it was in the order of things that he would be wealthy and his workers, not. He also has some odd bequests, such as leaving a bunch of his college books to the long-lost love of his life, the Irish-American girl he threw over, bending to family pressure. Would she really want these? Does she think of him the same way he does of her? All told, he's obviously born at just the wrong time: had he been a generation older he would not have lived through or even been aware of these struggles for independence; a generation later, he would probably have broken free - although his son, John, never quite does so, returning in the end to the protected, clubby life of Boston. The family lives on, for at least one more generation.

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