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

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Friday, August 5, 2016

George Apley's sad advice to his son

Another of the sorrowful elements in John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley occurs as we see GA providing to his son some of same the narrow-minded, class-biased advice that his father had once passed on to him: he tells his son, another one who got into Harvard (and Harvard law) entirely on the basis of his family name and connections, that the most important thing about college life is the contacts you make - and they must be with those of "our" class - and the club you join. For GA himself, yes, that was true - but his complete inability to reach out to others has been a problem and hindrance throughout his life. As one character notes of him, he has spent his life caught in a mesh of his own making. He always seems to want to break away but is unable to do so, and instead of encouraging his son to broaden his horizons, to meet new people, to live a life of his own, he can't see beyond his class-bound blinders. Yet: in one poignant moment in their correspondence he tells his son very briefly about the love he once had for the young Irish-American girl, how he'd wanted to marry her - and we get the sense that this is part of the great longing, and the great failure, in his life. One of the mysteries of the novel is his friendship w/ his kindred soul and fellow bird-watcher, Clara - there's more than a hint that he was carrying on an affair with her over many years, tolerated by his dishwater wife, but on the other hand it's also possible that all he really needed was a friend and a sympathetic listener, which she has been for him. Perhaps more will come out about this by the end of the novel. Another note: his son goes off to war (World War I) though sees no action, and GA laments that there wasn't a war in his youth - and we have to think he's right, he would have been very well suited for the military life and that would have introduced him to a wide range of people and maybe changed him for the better.

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