Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

“At the age of nine, George Amberson Minafer, the Major's one grandchild, was a princely terror…”

Georgie Amberson Minafer, the spoiled only grandchild of a wealthy Midwest family, is alternately loathed and revered by nearly everyone in town. His beautiful face and privileged upbringing create an image that is difficult for people to resist, particularly people who are used to watching everything the Amberson family says and does. When Lucy Morgan enters the story, she too is captured by the magnificence of the Amberson family, and particularly by Georgie. But little do Georgie and Lucy know that their parents were also once in love.

Isabel Amberson, Georgie’s mother, was the most sought-after girl in town. Eugene Morgan, Lucy’s father, was the only young man who could capture Isabel’s heart. Through a youthful misunderstanding the star-crossed lovers were parted, only to be reunited years later, now with children of their own. Will Eugene and Isabel be able to finish their love story with a happy ending? Or will Georgie, used to being worshiped by his mother, be unable to accept that his mother is a woman that may need some fulfillment outside of serving her one and only adored son?

The Magnificent Ambersons is a story of unrequited love and the redemption of the human soul told against the backdrop of a changing world, a world in which old money and family prestige is rapidly being taken over by progress and industrialization. Written in 1918 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, The Magnificent Ambersons still delivers a relative tale for today’s audience that is facing a whole new set of socioeconomic pressures in an ever-changing world.

My Review

4 Stars 

Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, winner of the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is the story of a wealthy American family.   Taking place at the start of the 20th century, a time of great technological and social change, the novel focuses on young Georgie Amberson Minafer, the much adored only child of Isabel Amberson, who is the daughter of the Amberson patriarch.   With a doting mother, an obliging father and a circle of friends who bend to his will, Georgie seems to have the world at his feet.   With the arrival in town of Lucy Morgan and her father Eugene, a former friend of his mother's, Georgie's life and that of his family slowly begins to change.  Georgie, never one to pay much attention to women, becomes smitten with Lucy.  While Lucy appears to be quite taken in by Georgie's charms and good looks, she isn't willing to commit to him.   Will Georgie be able to win her over?   Georgie's mother, on the other hand, finds herself increasingly drawn to the companionship provided by her old friend, who also happens to be a former flame - a development Georgie strongly disapproves of.   Meanwhile, the world is rapidly changing, and a new era of prosperity and innovation is being ushered in.  Those who aren't willing to embrace change risk being left behind, including the Ambersons.

There are many things that I liked about this novel, including Tarkington's witty and, at times, comedic prose.   I also enjoyed each of the novel's characters, whether they be principal or supporting.   Georgie Amberson Minafer is depicted as a spoiled, indulged and lazy young man, one who aspires to nothing more than living the good life via his family's fortune and having others cater to his every whim.   Yet, despite this I couldn't bring myself to dislike him, instead I was interested in what he would get up to next.   Isabel Amberson is the doting mother who sees nothing but good in her son, even when her son's actions threaten her own chance at happiness.  While the Ambersons represent the established elite, Eugene Morgan and his daughter Lucy are members of an emerging class of wealthy entrepreneurs.  Eugene, an automobile inventor, is a man with a vision.  He clearly understands that in order to succeed he must embrace new technologies and ways of doing things.   While I enjoyed the story itself, I feel the greatest strength of the novel is in how it illustrates the significant changes occurring within American society at the turn of the 20th century through the eyes of the Ambersons and Morgans.   Wealthy families such as the Ambersons, content to live as they always had and in denial of both their decline and the impact of technological and societal changes, were being surpassed in wealth and prestige by those, such as the Morgans, who could accept and adapt to change.  In closing, The Magnificent Ambersons presents readers with a compelling and engaging portrayal of American life at the turn of the 20th century as experienced through its well drawn cast of characters. 

Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, Legacy Romance, in exchange for an honest review.

The Magnificent Ambersons is on tour during the month of April.  You can check it out at the following link:

Be sure to check back tomorrow for a guest post on Georgie Amberson Minafer, which will feature a  giveaway for a digital copy of The Magnificant Ambersons