Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Magnificent Ambersons (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

An Old Love. A Spoiled Son. Repudiations. Changing Fortunes. The Dawn of the Automobile. Gossip. Comeuppance. Riffraff.  

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington is the winner of the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. This novel has the feel of a period piece. It describes the rise of the automobile, the metamorphosing of towns into cities, and how wealth changed possession from old families to those associated with industrialism. The novel has been made into a number of movies.

Briefly, the beautiful and wealthy Isabel had two suitors. After one does something silly and embarrassing, Isabel chooses the safe one. They marry and have one child, George. She worships him and thinks he can do no wrong. To most other people he is an arrogant and obnoxious child. Tarkington refers to people hoping that he will get his “comeuppance.” The novel follows his growing up, including his success at proving his social superiority to those around him, his falling in live with Lucy—the daughter of Isabel’s old boyfriend, the death of George's father, and George's efforts to protect his mother from the gossip of the town’s people.

The Magnificent Ambersons made me think about a number of things. First, despite George being a young man, he is very resistant to change, which is different than most novels. Second, the idea of evolving towns expanded my awareness of my own city. Yesterday, when I was out walking and looking at the various buildings, I thought of the different eras they come from and how the area has changed over the decades. Third, our society is currently undergoing tremendous changes, the West losing substantial power and influence. Reading about another time of great change gives some perspective to our current situation.

Alternating reading Science Fiction and Pulitzer Winners is giving my brain a workout. I was surprised that both make me think about the passing of time and how transitory our current world really is.

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