Monday, December 26, 2011

Alice Adams (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Parents and Children. Social Climbing. Integrity. Pretense. Paternalism.

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington won the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. I found the novel naïve and sweet, the product of a more innocent time. It has a bit of humor, a bit of morality, and a simple storyline. In 1935 Alice Adams was made into a romantic film that starred Katharine Hepburn.

Briefly, the story opens with Alice’s father recovering from an unknown illness. Alice goes to a dance given by Mildred, a young woman of a higher social class. Alice has learned to put on pretenses to compensate for her perceived deficiencies—in this day and age, we would say that she has low self-esteem. Alice’s well-meaning mother insists that Alice’s brother, Walter, accompany her. Walter, it turns out, is drawn to people of questionable reputation. At the party, Alice meets Arthur Russell, a distant cousin and alleged fiancé of Mildred. Much to Alice’s surprise, Russell takes an interest in Alice and begins visiting her on a regular basis. Alice tries to hide her lower social status from him. In the meantime, Alice’s mother convinces Alice’s father to leave the company he has been with all his adult life, striking out on his own and opening a glue factory. The problem is that the formula he will be using was created for his employer many years ago. The Adams clan eventually experiences a “rain of misfortune.” By the end of the story, both Alice and her father have grown in integrity.

I found the book pleasant. Those who like to watch classic movies will probably find it much more appealing. I did find one scene in the book especially memorable. Alice is trying to find a way to be more attractive for the dance, despite her family’s lack of money. So, she picks 300 violets, which she will carry and will pin to her dress. Tarkington goes on to describe the wonderful fragrance.

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