Thursday, August 4, 2016
Marquand's great triumph in The Late George Apley
The drumbeat goes on, in The Late George Apley, as he moves into fatherhood and his inevitable disappointment in his son, who is withdrawn and saturnine. Apley in some ways wants his son to be in his own image, handsome and popular and a success by most measures. Yet he constantly struggles with his own self-doubt, realizing that whatever others feel and believe about him he sees himself as a failure, a man who has led an empty life of pretense and privilege. He should want something more, something different for his son, yet his imagination is so limited in scope that he can't let his son pursue his own course, all he can imagine is a life like his own. Marquand's great triumph in this novel is that he never stoops to sarcasm or condescension; though he is deeply critical of Apley and the life of social set, and though he uses irony through every page of this novel - the narrator, Willing, who belies his own narration, as every excerpt from Apley's correspondence undermines the hagiographic portrait Willing was hired to create, - he never makes Apley loathsome or evil; we truly feel sorry for the poor rich boy, recognize his failures and his crushed aspirations, see him occasionally at his best - trying for social reform, scoffing at those who pick on the weak, ever the dutiful son and husband and father.