Riffraff! Tell me what happens!

Who wrote this book and when?

Booth Tarkington, 1918.

Has there been a movie made of it?
Yes, Orson Welles made a film of it in 1942. RKO cut about 55 minutes of the film without his approval, but he acted in it anyway. It was nominated for several Oscars and was deemed “Culturally Significant” by the Library of Congress and has been preserved by the National Film Registry. There was also a tv version made in 2002.

Who are the main characters?
Georgie Minafer Amberson – the last heir to the Amberson family line. A rich and proud dandy who thinks mainly of himself and his mother
Isabel Minafer Amberson – a beautiful humble woman who married someone other than her true love. She worships her son, Georgie, and will sacrifice anything for him.
Lucy Morgan – the daughter of Isabel’s true love, and the romantic interest of Georgie’s.
Eugene Morgan – Isabel’s true love, Lucy’s father, an automobile inventor and producer
Uncle George Amberson – Isabel’s brother and Eugene’s best friend. He is notorious for having bad business and investing sense.
Aunt Fanny Minafer – Isabel’s sister-in-law, she was in love with Eugene as well. She and Georgie spend most of his youth fighting as a result of him picking on her.

What’s it about?
The novel begins by introducing us to the Amberson family. They have a mansion and own half the establishments in town, including the hotel and opera house. They are the social tip top and definers of fashion in their town. Isabel is the only living daughter of Major Amberson, and she spurns the man she really loves – Eugene Morgan – when he sings a drunken seranade in front of her window and embarrasses her. She instead marries Eugene’s rival, Wilbur Minafer. They settle down quickly and have one son, Georgie.

Being the only heir to the Amberson estate, Georgie grows to be a very proud and obnoxious boy. His belief of being “better than” everyone else causes him to only think of himself and his mother the majority of the time. This influences everyone’s life around him – especially those in the Morgan family. Widower Eugene Morgan is still in love with Isabel, and Lucy Morgan (Eugene’s daughter) is falling in love with Georgie despite the fact they have completely opposing viewpoints when it comes to the future.

Why is this book a classic?
Any book who can tell a story and tell history at the same time should be deemed classic. Not only are you being told the story of the downfall of the Amberson family, but you’re being told about the downfall of a way of life. The end of the horse and buggy era, the end of the dandies and family money, and the beginning of the automobile age.

Why should I read this book?
To gain an appreciation for the rich and influential people of the past and a perspective on the rich and influential people of the present.

Has it won any awards?
No.

Favorite quotes:
“But these were luckless challenges, for Georgie immediately vaulted the fence – and four minutes later Mrs. Malloch Smith, hearing strange noises, looked forth from a window; then screamed, and dashed for the pastor’s study. Mr. Malloch Smith, that grim-bearded Methodist, came to the front yard and found his visiting nephew being rapidly prepared by Master Minafer to serve as a principal figure in a pageant of massacre.” – p 29

“But Georgie had reached his pony and mounted. Before setting off at his accustomed gallop, he paused to interrupt the Reverend Malloch Smith again. ‘You pull down your vest, you ole Billygoat, you!’ he shouted, distinctly. ‘Pull down your vest, wipe off your chin – an’ go to hell!'” – p 30

Anything else?
Automobiles banned by Congress…*chuckles*

Personal thoughts:
This book struck me as being very “Gatsby-ish.” I’m not exactly sure why – different time period, different moral statement, different ending. Possibly because of the opulence discussed in the beginning chapters which has all but disappeared by the end. In Gatsby’s case, it’s through his death. But in this case, it’s just because of tha natural progress of technology.

I felt very satisfied with the end of this novel, although I think I’d have to read it again to completely appreciate the death of the Amberson family way. I also appreciate the manner in which Tarkington writes. He’s descriptive – but not obsessively so. It’s easy to see that Tarkington lived through this period himself. The romanticizing he does with his writing is perfectly believable, he understood what the Amberson family was going through, as well as the Morgans.

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