“And since the primordial day when caste or heritage first set one person, in his own esteem, above his fellow-beings, it is to be doubted if anybody ever felt more illustrious, or more negligently grand, than George Amberson Minafer felt at this party.”

George Amberson Minafer, only grandchild of the old Major, is even more thoroughly unpleasant than the above sentence can suggest.  Being the expected heir to the town’s wealthiest family, he behaves with contemptible arrogance in every possible way–it is not enough for George Minafer that he believes he is the most important man in town.  Everyone else must publically and consistently show that they acknowledge their own inferiority.  He learns, with time, to mask this with a veneer of polite conversation, but it lurks under the surface constantly.

And yet, so far, he is the one alive character in town–everyone else seems a mere backdrop to his outrageous appetite for attention.  It’s becoming a frustration of mine with Tarkington: he’s a talented writer (or so I would say), yet he’s so transfixed by George that it’s hard for him to get anywhere with another character (I am perhaps 15% of the way into the book–the past couple of days have left less time for reading).  I wonder where he’s going, and fear this will be a “George learns to be a good man” novel.  If it is, it buys into George’s belief that he is always the most important person in the room.  Ernest Poole does not have Tarkington’s facility with words, but Poole at least knew that characters need to reach outside themselves a bit–the Gales may have been selfish and childish, but these actions constantly run them into the lives of real people and force at least a meaningful conflict.  George Minafer is so publically worshipped (while being privately criticized) that the book is becoming a series of episodes in which I want to punch George in the face, but no one in the room with him can do anything more than sputter and then give up.

I’m still intrigued by the word “magnificent”, by the way.  The OED first suggests “Of an immaterial thing: imposing, exalted, sublime.” but I’m thinking Tarkington’s intentionally baiting us with that, and is now ready to bludgeon us with “Of a person: characterized by display of wealth and ceremonial pomp.” or “Sumptuously constructed or decorated. Also, in wider sense: imposingly beautiful, splendid.”  There is little that is sublime about George Minafer (or the rest of the Amberson clan, as far as I can tell), but much that is both pompous and designed to impose with its splendor.  But the Ambersons may surprise me yet.

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3 comments on ““And since the primordial day when caste or heritage first set one person, in his own esteem, above his fellow-beings, it is to be doubted if anybody ever felt more illustrious, or more negligently grand, than George Amberson Minafer felt at this party.”

  1. Paul Hamann says:

    I’ll wait for you to get a little further before going too deep. (I’m way, way ahead of you. Yay for public-domain iPod downloads in the car!

    I’d like to suggest that the background, undeveloped nature of the other characters may be part of the point for Tarkington, however. This is a book, as I see it, about Georgie’s changes (or lack thereof)–and a critique of his centrality in his own world. Everybody else’s perspective fades because it fades -for him-.

    I think I like the book significantly more than you, but I don’t want to get too into it until you’ve seen a few of the plot developments along the way. (I certainly have complaints, but I do seem to actually be interested in where Tarkington takes us–which is interesting, as it’s not written in a style I normally like.)

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      I’m glad the audiobook makes the reading easy–I hope my newest post catches me up enough to let you offer a bit more? I’ll agree (as I noted in my new post) that the focus is squarely on Georgie…I’m just not sure it works for me. Is he interesting enough that I care about watching him go from an unpleasant little tyrant of a child to a chastened, self-aware man (I’m not there yet, but I have to believe we’re going there)? I’m not sure yet, but maybe I’m not giving him enough credit.

      You are probably right about liking this more than I do (though I’m trying to stay open to it–I would like to get something out of this, and preferably to enjoy it, by the end). If it helps you decide what to talk about, the last plot development I’ve encountered (as I type this) is Lucy’s wishing Georgie would pick a career, him getting angry about her father’s influence on her, and his departure at the end of that chapter.

      Thanks for reading along with me–it’s really good to know there’s at least one person who knows more about the story than I can mention in a blog post (even my long posts)! I look forward to hearing more of your take on this story–help me like this book, Paul!

  2. […] princess.  It’s hard, because I know this is Scarlett’s story.  Will she be another Georgie Amberson Minafer—an unbearable character who the author ends up indulging too often—or can the novel […]

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