Booth Tarkingtons's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of a Midwestern town and family in the emergent new era of the automobile and modern manufacturing is surprising on a number of accounts, for modern readers.
Books written before the modern era of Television, are very wordy and descriptive. In the Amberson's, Tarkington dedicates most of the first twenty pages or so to descriptions of the architecture, the dress, the music and the morals of the era the early 20th Century. His work was published in 1918, and a reader can sometimes skip entire passages to get one with the plot, scanning here and there, only to ponder eventually, the complexity of the author's mind and intent. Nonetheless, the Amberson's can be scanned.
The Amberson's are the wealthy, landed gentry of the Era, a family whose every action is the talk of the town. Nonetheless, the influx of immigrants from all parts of Europe, and their demand for housing, proves to be an encroachment upon the family land, fortunes and status.
The book contains a subdued and very Victorian romance, but the book is largely romantic in the broader context of its meanings. The Amberson's do not work, except for such members as are engagaged in politics, and the management of properties. Young "Georgie Amberson Minafer" grows up in privilge. He is fawned upon by his mother Isabel, and although he may be dressed as a Little Lord Fauntleroy, the lad's pride and aggressiveness lead him to impose his will upon the town, such that there is hardly a citizen that does not wait in expectation for "Georgie" to recieve his "come-uppance".
The tale Tarkington weaves is one of intimate personal family relationships, as well as the bonds of old friendships. By the time "Georgie" graduates from college, his conviction of superiority, and his intention to BE THINGS, rather than DO THINGS, reflects the common attitudes of his crowd at school.
The story of "Georgie" is a story of an unevolved personality, which is selfish, haughty, and arrogant in its youth, only to trample upon the very love which insulates him within his own family.
I believe the author has an important message, though the language and grasp of social ideas are from an era now so far removed, that his story may just as well have been set in the era of the Roman Caesars. Nonetheless, the story is good to know. For that reason, I have tried to justify "scanning" some of the more descriptive passages, rather than have a modern reader discount the story entirely.
Tarkington particulary draws the romantic object of "Georgie" very well. This is Miss Lucy Morgan very well, in my opinion. I enjoyed the manner in which Lucy is able to permit "Georgie" to court her, while at the same time, recognizing clearly, that his character has obvious faults. Lucy, is not blinded by love; rather, it is love that illuminates for Lucy, the character of the men in her life.
There are some cosmological revelations in the book, and I find it interesting that even in novels proceeding right on up through the 1930's, authors were having there characters discover within themselves, mysteries of life, and profound truths. Sherwood Anderson is one such author who followed upon the era of Booth Tarkington's fame, who did this.
I remember specifically at one point, when the observation was offered by the author, that there was a certain problem unique to the newly emerging 20th Century. It was something about everybody living in a kind of tract housing, where people never got to know their neighbors. This was peculiar, because I had assumed that this was a unique problem of the latter decades of the 20th Century, rather than the first decades of the 20th Century. It just goes to show you the powers of Booth Tarkington's insight into culture.
Not all such revelations are profound however. They serve the popular imagination, of a populace which lacked a certain Theological sophistication.