The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons

by Booth Tarkington

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Overview

[FYI: Named one of the 100 Best Novels by the editors of the Modern Library; 7/20/98 New York Times, p. B1]

Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons is a delightful novel. In addition, it is a view of Indianapolis’ evolution from a major marketing center to a great industrial city. It adds a new dimension to one’s understanding of the coming of the Industrial Age to the State of Indiana." —Herman B Wells, Indiana University

With the tremendous emphasis on wealth and status in contemporary society, Tarkington’s observations are as apt today as when first written. But that is what makes a classic, isn’t it?" —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789353368975
Publisher: Astral International Pvt. Ltd.
Publication date: 06/10/2019
Pages: 226
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

Booth Tarkington was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1869. He was from a well-to-do family and attended Princeton. His first novel was published in 1899 and he produced a stream of novels and plays until his death in 1946. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 and again in 1922. He was named America's Greatest Living Writer by the Literary Digest in 1922 and was the only writer in The New York Times' "10 Greatest Contemporary Americans. He died in Indianapolis in 1946.

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The Magnificent Ambersons


By Booth Tarkington

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14897-7


CHAPTER 1

MAJOR AMBERSON had "made a fortune" in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then. Magnificence, like the size of a fortune, is always comparative, as even Magnificent Lorenzo may now perceive, if he has happened to haunt New York in 1916; and the Ambersons were magnificent in their day and place. Their splendour lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city, but reached its topmost during the period when every prosperous family with children kept a Newfoundland dog.

In that town, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet, and when there was a new purchase of sealskin, sick people were got to windows to see it go by. Trotters were out, in the winter afternoons, racing light sleighs on National Avenue and Tennessee Street; everybody recognized both the trotters and the drivers; and again knew them as well on summer evenings, when slim buggies whizzed by in renewals of the snow-time rivalry. For that matter, everybody knew everybody else's family horse-and-carriage, could identify such a silhouette half a mile down the street, and thereby was sure who was going to market, or to a reception, or coming home from office or store to noon dinner or evening supper.

During the earlier years of this period, elegance of personal appearance was believed to rest more upon the texture of garments than upon their shaping. A silk dress needed no remodelling when it was a year or so old; it remained distinguished by merely remaining silk. Old men and governors wore broadcloth; "full dress" was broadcloth with "doeskin" trousers; and there were seen men of all ages to whom a hat meant only that rigid, tall silk thing known to impudence as a "stove-pipe." In town and country these men would wear no other hat, and, without self-consciousness, they went rowing in such hats.

Shifting fashions of shape replaced aristocracy of texture: dressmakers, shoemakers, hatmakers, and tailors, increasing in cunning and in power, found means to make new clothes old. The long contagion of the "Derby" hat arrived: one season the crown of this hat would be a bucket; the next it would be a spoon. Every house still kept its bootjack, but high-topped boots gave way to shoes and "congress gaiters"; and these were played through fashions that shaped them now with toes like box-ends and now with toes like the prows of racing shells.

Trousers with a crease were considered plebeian; the crease proved that the garment had lain upon a shelf, and hence was "ready-made"; these betraying trousers were called "hand-me-downs," in allusion to the shelf. In the early 'eighties, while bangs and bustles were having their way with women, that variation of dandy known as the "dude" was invented: he wore trousers as tight as stockings, dagger-pointed shoes, a spoon "Derby," a single-breasted coat called a "Chesterfield," with short flaring skirts, a torturing cylindrical collar, laundered to a polish and three inches high, while his other neck-gear might be a heavy, puffed cravat or a tiny bow fit for a doll's braids. With evening dress he wore a tan overcoat so short that his black coat-tails hung visible, five inches below the overcoat; but after a season or two he lengthened his overcoat till it touched his heels, and he passed out of his tight trousers into trousers like great bags. Then, presently, he was seen no more, though the word that had been coined for him remained in the vocabularies of the impertinent.

It was a hairier day than this. Beards were to the wearers' fancy, and things as strange as the Kaiserliche boar-tusk moustache were commonplace. "Side-burns" found nourishment upon childlike profiles; great Dundreary whiskers blew like tippets over young shoulders; moustaches were trained as lambrequins over forgotten mouths; and it was possible for a Senator of the United States to wear a mist of white whisker upon his throat only, not a newspaper in the land finding the ornament distinguished enough to warrant a lampoon. Surely no more is needed to prove that so short a time ago we were living in another age!

... At the beginning of the Ambersons' great period most of the houses of the Midland town were of a pleasant architecture. They lacked style, but also lacked pretentiousness, and whatever does not pretend at all has style enough. They stood in commodious yards, well shaded by leftover forest trees, elm and walnut and beech, with here and there a line of tall sycamores where the land had been made by filling bayous from the creek. The house of a "prominent resident," facing Military Square, or National Avenue, or Tennessee Street, was built of brick upon a stone foundation, or of wood upon a brick foundation. Usually it had a "front porch" and a "back porch"; often a "side porch," too. There was a "front hall"; there was a "side hall"; and sometimes a "back hall." From the "front hall" opened three rooms, the "parlour," the "sitting room," and the "library"; and the library could show warrant to its title—for some reason these people bought books. Commonly, the family sat more in the library than in the "sitting room," while callers, when they came formally, were kept to the "parlour," a place of formidable polish and discomfort. The upholstery of the library furniture was a little shabby; but the hostile chairs and sofa of the "parlour" always looked new. For all the wear and tear they got they should have lasted a thousand years.

Upstairs were the bedrooms; "mother-and-father's room" the largest; a smaller room for one or two sons, another for one or two daughters; each of these rooms containing a double bed, a "washstand," a "bureau," a wardrobe, a little table, a rocking-chair, and often a chair or two that had been slightly damaged downstairs, but not enough to justify either the expense of repair or decisive abandonment in the attic. And there was always a "spare-room," for visitors (where the sewing-machine usually was kept), and during the 'seventies there developed an appreciation of the necessity for a bathroom. Therefore the architects placed bathrooms in the new houses, and the older houses tore out a cupboard or two, set up a boiler beside the kitchen stove, and sought a new godliness, each with its own bathroom. The great American plumber joke, that many-branched evergreen, was planted at this time.

At the rear of the house, upstairs, was a bleak little chamber, called "the girl's room," and in the stable there was another bedroom, adjoining the hayloft, and called "the hired-man's room." House and stable cost seven or eight thousand dollars to build, and people with that much money to invest in such comforts were classified as the Rich. They paid the inhabitant of "the girl's room" two dollars a week, and, in the latter part of this period, two dollars and a half, and finally three dollars a week. She was Irish, ordinarily, or German, or it might be Scandinavian, but never native to the land unless she happened to be a person of colour. The man or youth who lived in the stable had like wages, and sometimes he, too, was lately a steerage voyager, but much oftener he was coloured.

After sunrise, on pleasant mornings, the alleys behind the stables were gay; laughter and shouting went up and down their dusty lengths, with a lively accompaniment of curry-combs knocking against back fences and stable walls, for the darkies loved to curry their horses in the alley. Darkies always prefer to gossip in shouts instead of whispers; and they feel that profanity, unless it be vociferous, is almost worthless. Horrible phrases were caught by early rising children and carried to older people for definition, sometimes at inopportune moments; while less investigative children would often merely repeat the phrases in some subsequent flurry of agitation, and yet bring about consequences so emphatic as to be recalled with ease in middle life.

... They have passed, those darky hired-men of the Midland town; and the introspective horses they curried and brushed and whacked and amiably cursed—those good old horses switch their tails at flies no more. For all their seeming permanence they might as well have been buffaloes—or the buffalo laprobes that grew bald in patches and used to slide from the careless drivers' knees and hang unconcerned, half way to the ground. The stables have been transformed into other likenesses, or swept away, like the woodsheds where were kept the stove-wood and kindling that the "girl" and the "hired-man" always quarrelled over: who should fetch it. Horse and stable and woodshed, and the whole tribe of the "hired-man," all are gone. They went quickly, yet so silently that we whom they served have not yet really noticed that they are vanished.

So with other vanishings. There were the little bunty street-cars on the long, single track that went its troubled way among the cobblestones. At the rear door of the car there was no platform, but a step where passengers clung in wet clumps when the weather was bad and the car crowded. The patrons—if not too absent-minded—put their fares into a slot; and no conductor paced the heaving floor, but the driver would rap remindingly with his elbow upon the glass of the door to his little open platform if the nickels and the passengers did not appear to coincide in number. A lone mule drew the car, and sometimes drew it off the track, when the passengers would get out and push it on again. They really owed it courtesies like this, for the car was genially accommodating: a lady could whistle to it from an upstairs window, and the car would halt at once and wait for her while she shut the window, put on her hat and cloak, went downstairs, found an umbrella, told the "girl" what to have for dinner, and came forth from the house.

The previous passengers made little objection to such gallantry on the part of the car: they were wont to expect as much for themselves on like occasion. In good weather the mule pulled the car a mile in a little less than twenty minutes, unless the stops were too long; but when the trolley-car came, doing its mile in five minutes and better, it would wait for nobody. Nor could its passengers have endured such a thing, because the faster they were carried the less time they had to spare! In the days before deathly contrivances hustled them through their lives, and when they had no telephones—another ancient vacancy profoundly responsible for leisure—they had time for everything: time to think, to talk, time to read, time to wait for a lady!

They even had time to dance "square dances," quadrilles, and "lancers"; they also danced the "racquette," and schottisches and polkas, and such whims as the "Portland Fancy." They pushed back the sliding doors between the "parlour" and the "sitting room," tacked down crash over the carpets, hired a few palms in green tubs, stationed three or four Italian musicians under the stairway in the "front hall"—and had great nights!

But these people were gayest on New Year's Day; they made it a true festival—something no longer known. The women gathered to "assist" the hostesses who kept "Open House"; and the carefree men, dandified and perfumed, went about in sleighs, or in carriages and ponderous "hacks," going from Open House to Open House, leaving fantastic cards in fancy baskets as they entered each doorway, and emerging a little later, more carefree than ever, if the punch had been to their liking. It always was, and, as the afternoon wore on, pedestrians saw great gesturing and waving of skin-tight lemon gloves, while ruinous fragments of song were dropped behind as the carriages rolled up and down the streets.

"Keeping Open House" was a merry custom; it has gone, like the all-day picnic in the woods, and like that prettiest of all vanished customs, the serenade. When a lively girl visited the town she did not long go unserenaded, though a visitor was not indeed needed to excuse a serenade. Of a summer night, young men would bring an orchestra under a pretty girl's window—or, it might be, her father's, or that of an ailing maiden aunt—and flute, harp, fiddle, 'cello, cornet, and bass viol would presently release to the dulcet stars such melodies as sing through "You'll Remember Me," "I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls," "Silver Threads Among the Gold," "Kathleen Mavourneen," or "The Soldier's Farewell."

They had other music to offer, too, for these were the happy days of "Olivette" and "The Mascotte" and "The Chimes of Normandy" and "Giroflé-Girofla" and "Fra Diavola." Better than that, these were the days of "Pinafore" and "The Pirates of Penzance" and of "Patience." This last was needed in the Midland town, as elsewhere, for the "aesthetic movement" had reached thus far from London, and terrible things were being done to honest old furniture. Maidens sawed what-nots in two, and gilded the remains. They took the rockers from rocking-chairs and gilded the inadequate legs; they gilded the easels that supported the crayon portraits of their deceased uncles. In the new spirit of art they sold old clocks for new, and threw wax flowers and wax fruit, and the protecting glass domes, out upon the trash-heap. They filled vases with peacock feathers, or cat-tails, or sumach, or sunflowers, and set the vases upon mantelpieces and marble-topped tables. They embroidered daisies (which they called "marguerites") and sunflowers and sumach and cat-tails and owls and peacock feathers upon plush screens and upon heavy cushions, then strewed these cushions upon floors where fathers fell over them in the dark. In the teeth of sinful oratory, the daughters went on embroidering: they embroidered daisies and sunflowers and sumach and cat-tails and owls and peacock feathers upon "throws" which they had the courage to drape upon horsehair sofas; they painted owls and daisies and sunflowers and sumach and cat-tails and peacock feathers upon tambourines. They hung Chinese umbrellas of paper to the chandeliers; they nailed paper fans to the walls. They "studied" painting on china, these girls; they sang Tosti's new songs; they sometimes still practised the old, genteel habit of lady-fainting, and were most charming of all when they drove forth, three or four in a basket phaeton, on a spring morning.

Croquet and the mildest archery ever known were the sports of people still young and active enough for so much exertion; middle-age played euchre. There was a theatre, next door to the Amberson Hotel, and when Edwin Booth came for a night, everybody who could afford to buy a ticket was there, and all the "hacks" in town were hired. "The Black Crook" also filled the theatre, but the audience then was almost entirely of men who looked uneasy as they left for home when the final curtain fell upon the shocking girls dressed as fairies. But the theatre did not often do so well; the people of the town were still too thrifty.

They were thrifty because they were the sons or grandsons of the "early settlers," who had opened the wilderness and had reached it from the East and the South with wagons and axes and guns, but with no money at all. The pioneers were thrifty or they would have perished: they had to store away food for the winter, or goods to trade for food, and they often feared they had not stored enough—they left traces of that fear in their sons and grandsons. In the minds of most of these, indeed, their thrift was next to their religion: to save, even for the sake of saving, was their earliest lesson and discipline. No matter how prosperous they were, they could not spend money either upon "art," or upon mere luxury and entertainment, without a sense of sin.

Against so homespun a background the magnificence of the Ambersons was as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral. Major Amberson bought two hundred acres of land at the end of National Avenue; and through this tract he built broad streets and cross-streets; paved them with cedar block, and curbed them with stone. He set up fountains, here and there, where the streets intersected, and at symmetrical intervals placed cast-iron statues, painted white, with their titles clear upon the pedestals: Minerva, Mercury, Hercules, Venus, Gladiator, Emperor Augustus, Fisher Boy, Stag-hound, Mastiff, Greyhound, Fawn, Antelope, Wounded Doe, and Wounded Lion. Most of the forest trees had been left to flourish still, and, at some distance, or by moonlight, the place was in truth beautiful; but the ardent citizen, loving to see his city grow, wanted neither distance nor moonlight. He had not seen Versailles, but, standing before the Fountain of Neptune in Amberson Addition, at bright noon, and quoting the favourite comparison of the local newspapers, he declared Versailles outdone. All this Art showed a profit from the start, for the lots sold well and there was something like a rush to build in the new Addition. Its main thoroughfare, an oblique continuation of National Avenue, was called Amberson Boulevard, and here, at the juncture of the new Boulevard and the Avenue, Major Amberson reserved four acres for himself, and built his new house—the Amberson Mansion, of course.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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"The Magnificent Ambersons is perhaps Tarkington's best novel." —-Van Wyck Brooks

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The Magnificent Ambersons 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I came across this book from its placement on the Modern Library's Top 100 list (and it barely made it on!). When I first set out to read this book, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I was quite dreading the task. However, I was quickly proven wrong. This is one of the absolute best novels I have ever read. The book is somewhat a portrait of young love, youthful arrogance, and the moral degeneration caused by old wealth. Yet it is also an interesting portrait of the typical forgotten American Industrial city -- Gary, Indiana; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Sandusky, Ohio come to mind. In fact, it was among these cities, in their prime and on the verge of their downfall, that Booth Tarkington matured. In this way, one supposes, the novel is not the story of George Minafer and his family, but the story of Anytown, USA, falling out of date vicariously through its ancient wealth. Tarkington was prophetic in his portrait. The decline of the Amberson wealth usurped by the Automotive industry is a direct parallel to what would happen not so much later in the century with the export of American labor. Certainly this novel speaks volumes about life: not just of the wealthy, but implicitly about the working class.
Timhrk More than 1 year ago
Barnes & Noble must be commended for keeping in prints lesser known literary works. The Magnificent Andersons is a novel about transition. An upper class waspy family, and its place in society, is forever changed by the coming of the automobile and other industries and the period of massive immigration in the early 20th century. The main character, George Amberson, is a callow youth who becomes a victim not just of these forces, but of his own insistence on trying to hold on to the world he knew-of strict social structures where wealthy male protestants held power through birth not merit. This insistence results in tragedy, denying his mother the true love of her life and leaving his spinster aunt in abject poverty. Family love and loyalty may triumph-these are values George holds dear and lives up to-but they do nothing to prevent the destruction of an old way of life. In spite of some clunky sentences, Tarkington is an objective observer of events. I remember liking the Orson Wells film, the book is just as good. I even liked the old fashion over use of foreshadowing. Please visit: timothyherrick.blogspot.com
Kelberts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story is illustrative of the demise of the Victorian era from economic and social standpoints. Although the reader feels some wistfulness and nostalgia for times of elegance and propriety, the Ambersons, who symbolize these things, are hardly sympathetic characters and their blind devotion to this way of life makes them seem almost silly. The novel does have a compelling plot and redemption at the conclusion. Yes, it's written in flowery style, perhaps indicative of the time, but it is includes effective imagery and humor. It's a well-rounded piece of literature and worth reading.
mydomino1978 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was dreading this book, but it was next on my Pulitzer list. I had forgotton how much I like Booth Tarkington. The book was engaging, and you came to like its very unlikable protagonist, and to regret the sad twist at the end.
Joycepa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pulizter Prize winner, 1919.This is the story of the fall from social prominence of a ¿Midland¿ family around the turn of the 20th century. Due to the financial success through land and investments of Major Amberson, the patriarch of the family, the Ambersons achieved social prominence in one generation. The story is primarily concerned with the abrupt decline of that family in the 3rd generation, as experienced by Major Amberson¿s only grandchild, George Amberson Minafer. An arrogant and self-absorbed child who keeps those less-than-endearing personality traits into adulthood, George is the embodiment of the selfish, narcissistic ¿dandy¿; his life goal is not ¿to do¿¿any sort of work or profession is beneath him and his self-perceived status¿but ¿to be¿¿a gentleman.But coming along to upset almost everyone¿s ideas of society and progress is the automobile, its disruptive force personified of one of its (fictional) pioneers, Eugene Morgan. A former resident of the town as well as a former suitor of George¿s mother, Isabel, Morgan invokes uneasiness in George, who proceeds to fall in love with Morgan¿s daughter, Lucy.. That uneasiness turns to hatred when George¿s is unaccustomedly denied something he wants and has his superficial values of life rejected. The result is tragic.The automobile, however, is more than just an irritant for George, an unacceptable way for Morgan to make a living. It represents enormous economic and social upheaval, as wealth shifts from the American equivalent of the landed gentry to the new industrialists and speculators. The mobility provided by the automobile drastically alters the landscapes of urban areas; the Midland town¿a mall puddle in which the Ambersons are large frogs¿becomes a large city, whose growth in unchecked, leaving the Ambersons and their old-fashioned ideas of society behind; the Ambersons literally vanish in the sprawl of a large industrialized city.In 1919, when Tarkington wrote the book, there was nothing remotely approaching an ¿environmental movement¿. Yet Tarkington, in vivid prose, describes the price of the automobile and the resulting unrestricted growth, both in cities and in industry: soot-filled air from soft coal-fired furnaces of factories; disappearance of farm land as the city ¿upheaves¿ and moves its boundaries further and further out; the disintegration of the old pioneer values that had held sway for nearly 100 years only to be replaced by those of untrammeled greed; the destruction of neighborhoods as families are displaced by apartment dwellers and those living next to one another hardly ever meet. The Magnificent Ambersons is prophetic.These forces destroy George¿s world, so affectionately described at the opening of the book. But Tarkington doesn¿t lay the blame solely on outside forces; instead, he makes very clear the negative impact of a doting mother and grandfather, who give George everything he wants and treat him like a god, an indifferent father who cares only for his business, and a group of fawning companions and similarly afflicted spoiled colleagues at university. George is not a bad person, but his self-absorption, his mania about preserving the ¿family name¿ as a reflection off his own self-important social status, is a recipe for disaster for those closest to him. The language may seem stilted, more suited to the post-Victorian era which it portrays (the story ends before the start of World War I), but the story is immortal; it can be seen played out in today¿s media by the society celebrities of this age.The Magnificent Ambersons is a morality tale with obvious lessons. George, a sinner, is suitably punished but earns redemption. While the language of the Victorian Age may present a bit of a problem and personal behavior may stretch the credulity of an early 21st century reader, the story is told poignantly, with great clarity, and to enormous effect.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was difficult to read because there many misspelled words.
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ruthhill74 More than 1 year ago
Mostly, this is a good, old classic. I was surprised to discover it had won a Pulitzer Prize, but I realize that this was written in a different time period. It is hard to read this book from their frame of reference. Mostly, the book goes along at a nice clip. The characters are well-developed, and the dialogue is what one would expect from this time period and this privileged cast of characters. Realism is what drives this story. If you are looking for a romantic story where everyone lives happily after, I recommend you look elsewhere. I could have done without the psychic portion of the book, but at least there was no sex nor profanity. I think the author's most exquisite moment was when he wrote about the changes that occurred as times changed in the U.S. and the priveleged classes moved onward. That is probably what earned him an award. And what of the story? I would say that the story is engaging enough, but I am not particularly fond of the ending. I did appreciate the reality of the story. I suppose that explains the ending. Realistic stories often have no conclusion. I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
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Bookworm95AO More than 1 year ago
The book is entertaining and relatable. It also paints a clear picture of society during the turn of the century. Anyone would enjoy this book!
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