2007: 188. The Late George Apley


“George William Apley was born in the house of his maternal grandfather, William Leeds Hancock, on the steeper part of Mount Vernon Street, on Beacon Hill, on January 25, 1866.”

The Late George Apley, John P. Marquand

This is a book I had never heard of, and would never had read had I not gotten it into my head (from my sister and my father) that it would be fun to collect the Modern Library (we never pay more than $3, so we are hardly rabid collectors, though).  This book is very widely available in ML format, and we each have a copy.  When I got to the Modern Library section of my Commuting Book game (I treat them like one shelf, even though they are three - my ways are odd and mysterious!!), I figured it was time to give this mysterious Apley fellow a shot.  The book is, after all the Pulitzer Prize Novel for 1938 -- how could it fail to delight??

And, actually, for all my snide tone, it is not bad (if perhaps, not a Modern Classic such as the Modern Library label usually suggests).  It is the story of a Bostonian, a WASP named George Apley, who lived from the 1860’s to the 1930’s a life of perfect Bostonian rectitude (even if he secretly yearned for something else).  It is a gentle satire on the kind of society that thought that to be from Boston (meaning, of course, from society - not my poor Irish ancestors!) was the best thing one could be, and that there was little more to life than what could be found on Beacon Hill and Commonwealth Avenue (one could, perhaps spend four years in Cambridge, but no more).  It is the story of a man who wanted more, but also grew to value the life he had - and it walks a fine line between satirizing a man like George Apley and his life style and treating him like a real full figured human being.  As such, the book isn’t really a success stylistically - it seems like the author couldn’t quite decide what kind of book he wanted to write - but it is interesting as both a snapshot of what “Boston” was like at its worst, and of a type of man that doesn’t really exist anymore.

I don’t know - I had no expectations for this book (having never heard of it) and I leave it not really sure what I think about it.  Not much of a book review, huh? But I think it’s worth reading, particularly if you are yourself a Bostonian and want to understand your city better (even if the people in it would turn their noses up at you - Harvard Law or not...)

Recommended for:  Conflicted over educated Irish Americans from Massachusetts who can’t decide if they hate Bostonian snobs or want to be one...


Date/Place Completed: 12/14/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Modern Library

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017