This book was hard. I actually had to concentrate. I needed peace and quiet to read. There were too many words that I either couldn’t pronounce or couldn’t define. I feel so old and under-educationed. (hee hee). One of the first things in the book that made me laugh and shake my head was:
“Mercy, how pale you look, Newland!” Janey commented over the coffee-cups at breakfast; and his mother added: “Newland, dear, I’ve noticed lately that you’ve been coughing; I do hope you’re not letting yourself be overworked?” For it was the conviction of both ladies that, under the iron despotism of his senior partners, the young man’s life was spent in the most exhausting professional labours – and he had never thought it necessary to undeceive them.”
In a lot of ways I enjoyed this book. It reminded me that I used to love literature so much when I was about 18. Some of the descriptions were longer than I wanted them to be – but she really was thorough in creating such an interesting web of socially connected people, along with their proper expectations and way of doing things. I huffed at the idea that Newland and May needed their engagement period to ‘get to know each other.’ I was disappointed in how much ‘the young man’ saw May as a robot, basically. Without a brain and moving through her life just as everyone had programmed her too and doing all that they expected of her. How fascinating at the end of the book to find out that she knew what was going on all the time and so quietly and discreetly took care of the situation, that Archer had no idea until his grown son told him so. Newland may have been head of the house, but May was definitely the neck. (giggle)
I also found it fascinating to think that a woman’s arm, visible to the elbow, could be such an improper and stimulating thing at that time; that simply being alone with a woman was scandalous; and the closest Archer ever got to intimacy with Ellen was either kissing her hand, kissing her shoe, or the one time she threw her arms around his neck and finally – really kissed him. I can't say I would enjoy that level of innocence in my own life - but wouldn't mind it so much for my kids. Yeah, right. It is fascinating.
I got tired of names like, Madame Olenska; Gorgon; Mrs. Manson Mingott; van der Luyden; Mr. Sillerton Jackson. UGH!! Sorry – but it just got tiring. I looked up Gorgon btw. It was, in Greek mythology, a terrifying female creature. Such as, Medusa.
Another quote; something I thought quite romantic, in fact:
“Don’t be afraid of me: you needn’t squeeze yourself back into your corner like that. A stolen kiss isn’t what I want. Look: I’m not even trying to touch the sleeve of your jacket. Don’t suppose that I don’t understand your reasons for not wanting to let this feeling between us dwindle into an ordinary hole-and-corner love-affair. I couldn’t have spoken like this yesterday, because when we’ve been apart, and I’m looking forward to seeing you, every thought is burnt up in a great flame. But then you come; and you’re so much more than I remembered, and what I want of you is so much more than an hour or two every now and then, with wastes of thirsty waiting between, that I can sit perfectly still beside you, like this, with that other vision in my mind, just quietly trusting it to come true?”
Ironically, it turned out that the scandalous reputation Madame Olenska had was really, I think, unwarranted and undeserved. But that reputation, in part, pulled Archer in, and drew him toward his own scandalousness. He became obsessed with her. The night that he showed up and startled her as she was getting into her carriage – stalkerish, no? Ellen may have liked him or even loved him, but she was not willing to take it as far as he wanted to and eventually had to decide for him that they would not. The poor woman had to run away to Europe to save herself from him. I’m sad that he spent so many years and children and everything with May so unsatisfied and empty. He actually described May as,
“so lacking in imagination, so incapable of growth, that the world of her youth had fallen into pieces and rebuilt itself without her ever being conscious of the change.”
I have to say – that I think he was wrong. May was the one who grew up. Who stayed with him despite his obsession with another woman. Who loved him, took care of him. He seemed so much more to just wallow and tread the dead-inside steps that were required of him.
Girls. After all that. After years and years of unhappiness. His one opportunity to finally see Ellen again…he simply walked away and that was the end? What the crap? I thought that was a cruel and terrible ending. But then, Newland Archer was cruel to himself. He was, I believe, much more in love with her than she was with him.
FHS, why couldn’t Madame Olenska have said, 'I just think it means something more to you, that’s all.' That would have been, actually, kind of perfect.