I usually decide if I’m going to like a book within the first few pages, but I must admit, I was off base when I was ready to throw in the towel over The Magnificent Ambersons. The first chapter is painfully descriptive in its detailing of the style of clothing, facial hair, furnishings, shrubbery, etc. My advice; get through chapter one and you won’t be disappointed.
Set in Indiana in the early 20th century, we meet the Amberson family and follow them from their heydays to their financial ruin.
The youngest to represent the Amberson clan, George Amberson Minafer, is the privileged and arrogant young man about town. He fights with those he believes have not respected him, sasses his elders and has serious trouble keeping his opinions to himself. He falls in love with the daughter of a family friend, but after a minor spat followed by town gossip, lets his pride dictate rather than follow his heart, with consequences he will regret for life. This was a character so easy to detest, yet his stubborn pride and disdain for others somehow made him so damn human, you could feel his isolation and insecurity.
George’s doting mother, Isabel, seemed almost too good to be true. She was her son’s opposite; kind to everyone, sympathetic, caring and upbeat. Her only fault seemed to be her inability to see any of her son’s shortcomings. When she becomes widowed, she considers reuniting with an old love, and seeks the approval of her son, who is not at all in favor of any such relationship. Her health deteriorates, yet she honors her son’s wishes and agrees to leave with him to travel the world. An easily likable character who probably should have given her child a little whack now and again.
George’s paternal Aunt Fanny is the spinster living with the Ambersons and hoping for a secure future, either through financial support or through marriage. She is teased often by George and wants to strike out, but fears the reaction of his adoring mother so sighs heavily with acceptance of her place in the family. An annoying woman who does garner some sympathy as she is never taken too seriously by most.
No doubt it is true that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repented than over all the saints who consistently remain holy, and the rare, sudden gentlenesses of arrogant people have infinitely more effect than the continual gentleness of gentle people. Arrogance turned gentle melts the heart…
In all my life, the most arrogant people that I’ve known have been the most sensitive. The people who have done the most in contempt of other people’s opinion, and who consider themselves the highest above it, have been the most furious if it went against them. Arrogant and domineering people can’t stand the least, lightest, faintest breath of criticism. It just kills them.
Perhaps I could join Mr. Tarkington for a light dinner where I’d ask how he was able to create such an extensive volume of work. Hopefully, he’d also share some stories of his youth as well as his time at Purdue and Princeton.
My rating for The Magnificent Ambersons is a 9 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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Next up, my wrap up of reading 100 Books in 100 Weeks…yes, I actually did it!!!