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.