Archive for the ‘House of Mirth’ Category

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Word

July 25, 2010

I just finished and all I can say is “Word.”  Part II of House of Mirth quickly turned into a sort of misfortune porn as Wharton threw more and more travails Lily’s way.  Abandoned in Europe–check.  Disinherited–done.  I know let’s make her a total failure in the professional world too and while we’re at it throw in a nasty drug habit as well.  Sheesh.  It’s like Wharton read Sister Carrie and took it as a challenge. “Oh Dreiser thinks he can mistreat a lady!  Well he ain’t seen nothing yet!”

As to your question about Selden…I can answer that question in two words…Douche. Bag.  With his cowardice and his spouting of sub-The Alchemist style truisms.  Blecch.

But the second half of the book wasn’t all doldrums and sad faces…there was the touching scene with Lily and Nettie Struther’s baby.  And I liked how upon learning that she was disinherited Lily still ponders the larger questions of life

Gerty paused, and then continued firmly: “The important thing is that you should clear yourself–should tell your friends the whole truth.”

“The whole truth?” Miss Bart laughed. “What is truth?”…

Nothing like finding out that you’re penniless to inspire philosophical ponderings.

I was also intrigued by the concept of “hired friend” that seemed to be the role that Lily and Carry Fisher played in this society.  I was unaware this existed…it reminded me of an episode of Pushing Daisies that I watched recently (“Frescorts”–you should watch it–boy I like Pushing Daisies!).

The last question I was left with is what is the word that came to Lily as she entered her final chloral-induced slumber?  And the word that comes Selden that he whispers at her bedside?  Do you think it was the same word? Or do you think that this pair remained out sync to the very end?

Well twin it’s done.  I’d be interested to hear what you thought of the book overall (me–I liked it…I could have used a little less sadness, but it was wittily told).  Also you should hunt yourself up a copy of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien–for that is what we shall read next!

If there aren’t three policemen in this book…I’m done with reading. I can’t take another ironic title.

Best,
Jon

P.S. If folks are interested in hearing people who actually have something interesting to say about House of Mirth you may want to check out the Slate Audio Book Club discussion of it. (I like the Slate Audio Book Club almost as much as I like Pushing Daisies!)

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Lily’s Ticket

July 19, 2010

Lily’s Ticket #1 — A boat ticket.  I’m not one to judge how someone reacts to stress (when I’m stressed I know I like nothing more than a cold beer, raisin and pepperoni bbq pizza and a marathon of Murder, She Wrote reruns–so no stone throwing here).  But I do find it odd that Lily chooses to react to her overwhelming financial woes by…booking a ticket on a pleasure cruise to the Mediterranean.  That seems…counterintuitive.

Or stupid.  Really, really stupid.

Lily’s Ticket #2:  The unerring eye of Carrie Fisher (not that Carrie Fisher) sees into the true Lily Bart–surprising (because up until this point she hasn’t really been much of a character).  Here’s her observation:

“Sometimes,” she added, “I think it’s flightiness–and sometimes I think it’s because, at heart, she despises the things she’s trying for.”

Well played minor character (I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten her name again).  While she’s stood on the sidelines of the narrative action, Mrs. Fisher has been watching.

And was I the only one who, upon reading the first chapter of book two and the insipid conversation regarding where the Wellington Bry’s should eat lunch, threw the book down and muttered “New money” with disdain?

I also have questions about upper-class American’s use of “ain’t” in the early 20th Century…you see it in many books written in that period–I always thought it was British representation of American English and then Wharton busts it out…was it really so prevalent?  Ain’t that something.

But there’s no time for more questions (perhaps someone could call A Way With Words for me?)…I’ve got to get back to reading.  We’ve been reading this book FOREVER and it’s time to put this one to bed.

Putting the book to bed,

Jon

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Frailty Thy Name is Gerty

July 10, 2010

In the past I’ve written (quite eloquently, if I do say so myself) on how I inspire you.  Well twin brother the inspiration is a two way street!  A veritable thoroughfare of creative stimulus.  We are a roomful of muses.

Oh, for you see I had let my HoM reading fall to the wayside.  The picture of Edith Wharton on the cover of my Libary of America Paperback Classic peered at me with a look of woeful neglect.

Then!  Then I log in and find that you are tearing through the book with an alacrity and speed that I’ve only seen you possess at a wedding buffet (wings and tips indeed!).  Well, needless to say I picked up the book at once and now Edith-on-the-cover peers at me with a look of benign distaste (I said excuse me E!  It’s natural…and that burrito was beanie).

I am slightly puzzled over your puzzling in the last post.  Why would Gus’s “tips” be ironic?  According to dictionary.com the meaning of tip is “a piece of private or secret information, as for use in betting, speculating, or writing a news story”.  So I think he’s just using it’s proper meaning with no irony (and no reference to Tip O’Neill–anachronism alert!).

I was disappointed to learn that Book I ends with Lily fleeing to the Mediterranean (I learned it here, because I still haven’t got that far).  If we learned nothing else from Laverne and Shirley we learned that changes of locale cannot save a flagging story line (I mean Laverne and Shirley in L.A.–what’s the point?). (Nota Bene:  I actually learned lots and lots from L&S–like that Milk and Pepsi is disgusting [remember that experiment!] and that monograms are the height of fashion)

Next thing you now Lily will be adopting a charming and precocious six year old for comic relief.

I did like the fact that it looks like Lily’s downfall will come at the surprisingly mannish hands (unexpectedly!) of Gerty Farish! How quickly she turns on Lily when she fears that her amateur theatrics partner, Lawrence Selden, may not be quite so available for their two-handers if he marries the lovely Lily.  I can just see her tossing her copies of Oleanna across the room in disgust (Anachronism #2!)

Well I’m off to continue reading….I can’t wait for Lily to hit the tropics!

Adieu,

Jon

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Chicken or “Tips”

July 7, 2010

Whoa, it’s been a long time since either one of us have posted. Oddly, this time it was not due to me avoiding even logging into the blog because of my lack of reading. (I don’t log in when I haven’t been reading because I sort of feel like the blog, and by extension, you, are judging me–And who are you to judge me?!?)

This time it was actually because I have been hithering and thithering lately. Hithering to San Diego, thithering to Wisconsin, and sitting here celebrating the 4th of July. But between flights and pondering the eternal Wisconsin wedding conundrum of “Chicken or Tips?” (my answer: Both!) I have read a few chapters.

First my obligatory comment to make the title of this post relevant. Have you noticed that every time Gus Trenor mentions a piece of investment advice he refers to it as a “‘tip.'” Is he being ironic, like his “tips” aren’t really sound advice? (Like the way “tips” is used in the following sentence: Jon gave me some excellent “tips” on how to run my fantasy football team.)

Or is “tips” his nickname for something else, like former Speaker of the House Thomas Philip “Tip” O’Neil?

Either way I am confused.

Now onto other things:

I recently finished part one and have now made it through a portion of Part II. But I find myself distracted by the abrupt “about face” the action took at the end of Part I. I had mentally prepared myself for a marriage of convenience between Lily and Rosedale and then the next thing I know Lily’s high-tailing it for the Mediterranean.

What the?!?

Now, as I read then the less than stimulating description of late 19th century European decadence, I can’t help but wonder what the book would have been like if Lily had married Rosedale. Would Selden and Lily be forced to live a life of unrequited love, the closest they ever come to love’s embrace would be a stolen glance across the table at one of Welly Bry’s nouveau riche dinner parties.

I keep hoping for a Sliding Doors-esque third act. But my hopes are not high.

Justin

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Ain’t No Party Like A Tableaux Vivant Party

June 24, 2010

“…we were drinking and mingling and the next thing you know we were posing as Raphael’s Three Graces and then things got weird…all I know is that I woke up with an apple in my hand and the taste of feathers in my mouth.”

I imagine that something like this like this could have come from any of the guests at the Welly Bry’s soiree de tableaux vivant.  I guess that’s how new money “rolled” back in early 20th Century America…posing like famous paintings as a “general entertainment”.  Well it’s all fun and games until some unleashes some Bosch on the room and the next thing you know dead bodies are everywhere.  It’s batsh*t crazy shenanigans like this that brought on Prohibition.

That being said I probably would have attended as a clown with a single tear or a schnauzer with a poker visor…or a Campbell’s soup can (because that’s art).

I did a quick scan of the literature on literature and it seems that Lily’s letter hoarding is unmined gold!  Keep digging Justin the world of literary criticism awaits your findings.  On a side note, I heard an interesting segment about hoarders on Fresh Air (I also heard about Prohibition of Fresh Air and contrary to popular belief it wasn’t tableaux vivant parties that brought about the change in laws (who is spreading these rumors?)…at least no one’s looked into it yet…maybe in the Ken Burns documentary…) and the authors of a book on hoarders said a lot interesting stuff about hoarding.  I like Fresh Air.

After Lily’s amazing re-creation of Rothko’s Orange and Yellow (I kid, I kid…she was some boring nude lady.) After her most vivant of tableaux Selden announced his love for her…and in my humble opinion his confession was given in the most douche baggy way possible “The only way I can help you is by loving you.”

Gulp.  I just swallowed a little vomit.

Quit pulling her chain Selden and let the girl marry some money!

Stranded in Louisville,

Jon

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The Girl Who Didn’t Play With Fire

June 22, 2010

Okay, I admit that this is a brazen attempt at trying to catch a little associated interest with the world-wide Stieg Larsson “Girl Who…” phenomenon. And I will admit that after a very turbulent pretty much sleepless red-eye flight from San Diego to New York, I am also feeling incredibly unclever, and really to be honest, barely awake. So, as a result I am seizing the zeitgeist, tweaking it, and appropriating it for my new blog post.

Or in fewer words: I am not clever.

But, this time my unoriginality if actually quite serendipitous as it does actually tie in to a plot point.

I’ve read a few chapters over the last few days, and I came across the intriguing plot twist of Mrs. Haffen’s letters. First of all, thank goodness for Mrs. Haffen. Finally, someone to liven things up a bit. A straw to stir the drink, so to speak. Her somewhat sad attempts at blackmailing Lily B. kept me reading for pages.

But this whole scene brought two big questions:

Question #1: Why does Lily not just tell Mrs. Haffen the letters aren’t hers and that Mrs. Haffen is really no spider to her fly?

Question #2: Why does she decide not to burn the letters? (And here is the tie-in the title–clever, eh?)

I can’t help but feel that this is going to end badly for Lily. But, quite honestly, I expect pretty much every decision Lily has made to this point (stock market speculation, gambling, letter hoarding0 will lead to headaches, heartaches, and surprisingly little mirth (considering the book’s title and whatnot) down the road.

Well, this post has already over-taxed my sleep-addled brain, so I will leave you with my questions to ponder.

Justin

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Ms. Nelson

June 8, 2010

So much to unpack in that last blog, mon frere. First I’ll tackle your Jan Brady citation. In your exegesis you question Jan’s motivation for buying a wig (as opposed to dying and/or restyling her hair. Note: I was impressed by your knowledge of the uses of aquanet–you are an onion–layers and layers). And you question further “And an old lady wig at that”?

I’d say that Jan had to buy a wig as opposed to simply re-fashioning her drab lusterless locks because she was striving (in vain!) to distance herself from Marcia’s shadow (Fool! Marcia Brady’s shadow knows no limits). Where Marcia was genuine (genuine Clairol Blonde #4!) Jan had to make herself as fake and manufactured as she possibly could. Where Marcia was vibrant and blond, Jan would be mousy and brown. Where Marcia was youth personified, Jan would embrace the hairstyle of a middle-aged school marm.

She had to be the Anti-Marcia…at all costs…and that’s why, rumor has it, a draft of that episode ended in homage to A Streetcar Named Desire with Jan in a straight jacket muttering “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers. Just wait til Ron Glass hears about this!”

I jest, I jest. Probably Jan just had bad taste (she did wear glasses–nerd!).

But that quotation drew another story to my mind…a different tale of reinvention and wig-buying (it’s, apparently, a trope of American Popular Culture). I was reminded, instead, of Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard (Pictures by James Marshall). If you don’t recall in that story the kind-hearted Miss Nelson loses patience with her unruly brood of recalcitrant students and concocts a grandiose scheme that includes her adopting a second persona (the still-frightening and intensely eye-browed Miss Viola Swamp) and acting as her own substitute to teach her students a lesson.

And that lesson, as far as I can tell, is that it’s okay to lie to kids if they’re really, really bratty.

Or did I perpetrate a misreading on this seminal text of childhood? As I look at the illustrations made visible on Amazon.com’s “Look Inside” feature it’s striking how different the noses of Miss Nelson and Viola Swamp are…

Could it be that Miss Swamp was, in fact, real? A distinct and separate being? Is it possible that Miss Swamp usurped Miss Nelson’s position in some nefarious way, subsequently letting loose the pent-up frustration and fury that is a natural result of dealing with a gaggle of unruly children day after day, culminating in a reckoning of epic proportions thereby obliterating all evidence that one Viola Swamp ever existed except for the remnants of a black dress and “wig” that Miss Nelson keeps as a warning to any other “substitute teacher” that may wish to encroach on her classroom fiefdom?

Maybe? Could be? [tumbleweed]

Long story short…don’t be surprised if Lily ends up buying a wig. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t read this book recently.

Until I read again,

Jon