A stunning tour de force about ambition and friendship, “All is Vanity” is a new book nobody should miss.
"...people are greedy and foolish, and wish to have and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good in life...." -- William Dean Howells
The author, Christina Schwarz, has joined us in the discussion!!!!
Frugal I'm glad to hear you say Drowning Ruth is a page turner. That was a gift from some other kids, and I just couldn't get into it. Maybe I need to give it another try.
But, whenever you schedule will be fine.
A Loyally Confused Reader,
Is this the article you mentioned? What a shame to lose emails and photos -- everything. Are they irretrievable? I'm just finishing a discussion in The Dante Club in which the author Matthew Pearl is participating. What a wonderful experience this has been and I'm excited at the prospect of another authorial treat in All Is Vanity.
Horselover, I hope you get the book soon! If a library copy isn't available, you can order quickly from B&N or used through www.abebooks.com or other book sites. We need you in Vanity.
It'll be a great discussion with or without the persona thing. This is a smashing book!
The pace of the entire book reminds me in some ways of a roller coaster ride, you know those old parks with the wooden coasters? And how you begin your journey by climbing up a very steep hill excitedly, and if you've ever noticed, it's up that first hill very deliciously drawing out every nuance how people will giddily and excitedly share the strangest things about themselves as the car rachets upwards? It's funny and exciting: a new adventure.
The story moved forward, not with the inexorable, crude pull of a thriller, but with a steady accretion of carefully observed moments.
I wanted people to meet me and think, "Ah, someone worth my notice."
(page 113) and
"I suppose I, unlike my mother, would never be quite sure that I was someone to be reckoned with until someone else told me so." (page 114).
B&N sells All Is Vanity as an ebook for $17.50. There are some restrictions besides cost: you need a computer, the computer has to have the capability to download a big text, and you'll need good eyes to read the text online. I don't meet any of those -- no computer; eyes hurt if I read online any length of time; little money. The great advantage to an ebook is AVAILABILITY & SPEED. Plus you won't have to worry about finding a place on your shelf to squeeze in one more book!
If money is a consideration -- which it always is for me -- you can order a used book from various online services such as www.abebooks.com which currently has some Vanity copies available for $4.95 on up plus shipping. That's a good deal. You can order by phone or email and request priority shipping, usually just for the cost of an extra dollar.
Searching online used bookstores was how I found an advance proof copy (softcover) of a Margaret Drabble book for a recent discussion and it was quite cheap. My kind of book!
There are many ways to find All Is Vanity -- including buying a brand spanking new copy! -- and even if you have to wait for delivery of the book, please sign on and join in. I hope to see lots and lots of friends here on June 1st.
I think my point is clear. I was precocious. I was enthusiastic, unswerving, creative. I had imagination. It took me only twenty years to realize that none of this mattered.
What you find out in your thirties is that clever children are a dime a dozen. It's what you do later that counts, and do far I had done nothing. (page 2)
" I admire you," she said. She did not admire me. If she was kind, she pitied me, and if, instead, she was like most people, she felt superior." (page 78).
She's a cock-eyed optimist, who envisions
herself capable of anything she sets her sights on starting at an early
age. UR? Heck , I still don't know where UR is, much less build it
out of clay.
Our Margaret is a fraud and she is beginning to see that in herself as we, too, identify it.
Interestingly enough her mother forbade anyone to shorten her name; to corrupt Margaret would be unthinkable. Why? If the kid wished to clip her name would that somehow reduce her stature in mama's eyes? Good grief, no wonder the child was so-o-oo driven. When Margaret told her mother about her best friend joining Brownies, she scoffed and said "she'd wasted enough hours for the both of them striving for inconsequential badges." (pg 52) In today's world this kid would most likely be diagnosed with Bulemia by the time she hit adolescence.
There are so many thoughts that I could present
here, as I understand Margaret. It is not what she has, nor what
she says -it is what she lacks. Margaret lacks FOCUS!
She's reasonably bright, she knows she needs to center herself to begin her "great novel." But, painfully , she can not even lay the plot nor centralize her protoganist. She tries, she makes out her schedule aware that organization IS imperative and then she is distracted ; she plays with her colored pencils,ponders the life styles of people she knows and even paints the apartment. She can not pin point anything as she shifts from one thought to the next. She is unable to knuckle-down and sharpen her well acquired skills. She eats, shops, whatever she can find to distract her own thoughts.
She can not focus!
Margaret says she became a teacher because she's 'too independent, too artistic and too much the overachiever' to work for a corporation or consulting firm. (29) Yet she's probably none of those things.
Margaret hasn't achieved. Like many of us, she suffers from the fear of failure. (I find the initial trying -- taking the first step -- is the most difficult step because that means I'm facing possible failure or success. It's the unknown that's scary to me.) Margaret hasn't progressed in writing her novel yet she hasn't made a 'name' for herself and she so desperately wants to be known; her artistry even as a child is questionable; and independence means not following through a "tedious and humiliating apprenticeship" such as putting one's time into learning a specialization. (She never got that education degree to qualify beyond her current position and thinks teaching is a stop-gap to her 'real' life.)
I think Margaret's artistry is definitely in question. True, she said as a child she'd made a model of the city of Ur and a bust of Nefertiti but were they artistic or wonderfully creative? Did she make them for the fun of it, or to impress?
Letty about the bust: "... Margaret made her mother something she said was the bust of Nefertiti .... It looked like a ball with a blue cylinder on top. Miss Betty, the teacher's aide, frowned, 'Wouldn't your mother like a nice bracelet,' she asked, 'like everyone else is making?' .... Margaret told me my bracelet was the best. I didn't say anything about Nefertiti. I didn't know what a Nefertiti was. Maybe she'd made a good one." (58) Is this a teacher stifling a child's creativity or merely honesty? Was this one of the roadblocks to achieving in later life? Letty's perspective seems generous and kind but her remarks also shows Letty's desire not to be excluded. She was unsure who/what Nefertiti was so she said nothing.
Margaret likes having the authority over her students; of being the final word about classics in a classroom. She was fond of those who looked up to her, trusted her, and needed her.
We don't know if people really condescended to Margaret as a teacher. I do know from having been in positions sans social prestige or money, that society can be pretty judgemental about your worth and it's hard to maintain self-esteem in such cases.
Margaret wants to be somebody to others, rather than being happy with herself as a person and doing what makes her happy. She doesn't stick to educational requirements for professional occupations, teaching isn't socially important enough for her and she thinks if she writes a novel it'll make her a success (to society? to herself?) She has no idea what to write and doesn't have a passion to write. Her passion is to be seen as having written, especially since, she wants to believe, it'll be a lasting work.
I think many of us have a vague wish for professional success. We live in a competitive society that ranks us according to our type of occupation and the money we earn or have. The trick is to not let that ranking matter to us, and that trick can be a hard thing to accomplish. Margaret is intelligent, perhaps she was drawn to literature because she liked it, she's a good person and I hope she finds happiness within.
She shows at a young age her preoccupation with things, and not just things but the 'right' things; name-brands if 'right'. Letty remembers how "Margaret wore her wavy hair in a ponytail secured with interlocking translucent plastic balls in colors like yellow, hot pink, and lime green. I begged my mother to buy me some like them .... She came home with ... a pitiful example of what I'd requested .. the balls were small, white, and opaque. 'How can there be a wrong kind?' she [her mother] asked. 'These are tasteful.' (17)
When she and Margaret sneak across the tracks, so to speak, to play tennis on a locked tennis court, Letty says: "The idea of sneaking someplace where we weren't allowed made my breathing shallow. Nevertheless, I was a little bit thrilled. I liked the idea of me, Letty Larue, sauntering onto the well-kept courts at East Mountain School for Girls, casually swinging my Cris Evert racquet by its handle. I liked the idea that we'd be doing something daring. And I trusted world-wise Margaret to make it all right." (19)
When a car pulls up in the parking lot of the tennis court, Letty and Margaret know they've been caught. Letty remembers the specific things -- an orange BMW, the girl their age getting out of the BMW "mattered ... It was nothing she said, only the way she held herself, sure of her place.... She glanced at my [tennis] dress, which was, I saw now, entirely wrong." (21) Letty says she may have been wrong about the girl's smugness:
Letty wanting to learning Spanish rather then Margaret's choice of Latin (Letty caved and took Latin): "I was attracted to Spaish because its speakers seemed to occupy a mysterious, and, therefore, romantic world behind an invisible but nevertheless impenetrable curtain." (59)
In nursery school where Margaret made the bust of Nefretiti, Letty made the assigned bracelet for her mother. And Letty remembers the specifics of things, right and wrong things: "My memories of nursery school are a jumble of unconnected details -- penny loafers with a confusing dime in the penny slot, a dress in a Mondrian pattern of red, white, and blue rectangles, swinging around white tights, a boy's bristly brush cut, and the teacher with a bindi -- although then I thought of it as a dot...." (58)
And as an adult Letty finds herself involved in a contest of oneupmanship with Alex Prescott, the "Mother Who Works Outside Home". Alex says she's preparing tuiles for a school party(!) and so Letty says she's doing petit fours. She tells Margaret that Alex had an exquisite manicure: "I think I'd like a manicure, Margaret. Is that a terrible thing to admit? ... But here is the important part. Alex is wearing the same watch I am." (34)
Then Letty's husband Michael is offered a prestige position and they visit a home as part of the 'vetting process' which suddenly makes Letty hate her own home. The hosts' home is gorgeous Letty thinks and "it's not the stuff so much as the graciousness that seems to go with it ... If I were the kind of person that lived in that house, I wouldn't have pained my toenails in the car on the way to the party ...I would not have hemmed my trousers with Scotch tape. I would be serene; I would be respectable; I would be a better Letty.... The reason I most hate my house now is that [if we reciprocate and invite our hosts over] ... they will see that we are not as good as they are." (85-6)
Letty and Michael fall in love with the possibility of the 'wonderful' life the company dangles in front of them and Michael accepts the job offer. They dream of blond office furniture, new appliances, and "Michael can't take donors to lunch in a 1980 Honda CVC, so we're test driving a Saab convertible, his 'dream car'...." (109)
Thus far into the reading I'd say that what Margaret and Letty want are similar but their path -- to have and to shine -- for reaching their desires are slightly different. The similar desire is expressed by Margaret:
It was hard to do, but I forced myself to stop at p. 115. These women are fascinating characters, one is tempted to peek to find out what happens. Lou, yes I agree with you about foreshadowing. Margaret has done something to Letty, for which she needs a lawyer and everyone wonders why she listened to her. But Letty’s been listening to Margaret all her life. She let Margaret talk her into breaking into the tennis court, she let Margaret talk her into taking Latin .
And then there’s Margaret’s relationship with her husband Ted. When he gives her the pen she saysurple>, Though one can hardly blame Ted if he didn’t agree with her, or if he decided to either leave or throw her out. So far the man has been a saint. Margaret listens to him and then does exactly what she pleases, doubly so. She paints the walls, then proceeds to the bookcases. She calls long distance to California after he tells of his concern about the phone bill.
So, Margaret is selfish? Yes, what Margaret wants, Margaret gets, and that alone makes me think she’ll get her book – by whatever means. She’s also immature – her whole attitude towards life is that if she wants something badly enough, she’ll get it. Not that she knows how to get it – or plans or works at it. As for being a fraud, Alf, only to herself, Ted, and Letty. Those who see her from a distance must see her as pathetic.
Lastly, I agree with those who are laying all this on Mom. “What do you care what other people think?” Hard words to live up to. Margaret’s still trying to show Mom that she’s an independent woman, who doesn’t care what others think. Mmmm.
One more thought – Ted seems to think pretty highly of Sally Stenforth. Is there more there than we know of? Looking forward to seeing you Friday and reading more of your takes on Margaret and Letty.
Margaret keeps running into her true self a million times in her daily life. She still never succeeds in digesting her own self image clearly. Her delusions about herself are so complete that she seldom recognizes the discrepancy between who she thinks she is and who she really is.
From my dictionary: materialist: a person who is markedly more concerned with material things than with spiritual values.
Margaret is the reverse. She doesn't care for things, she doesn't need the in-style and she scrounges furniture from sidewalk discards. Margaret and hubby live on a budget and her occasional guilty splurges are for a tin of gourmet food(?) or other relatively low priced treats.
There are people who want things and spend money they don't have (credit card, putting off paying a bill that's due) in order to have those things. That could be Letty. Even as a little girl she knows BRANDS; she's into THINGS. She remembers the BMW, the penny loafers with the stylistically jarring dimes in the leather slots, the much-desired specific colors of interlocking plastic balls used to secure a ponytail. She used her birthday money to buy a tennis dress and only wore it once (an impractical spending of money) since it wasn't suitable for her neighborhood .... until a year later when she finally thinks her super outfit is perfect to wear when she and Margaret crash the gate of the tony East Mountain Tennis Court.
And because Letty already had dreams of wearing her tennis dress somewhere sometime somehow, I think Letty is right in finally admitting that Margaret didn't push her into crashing the tennis courts.
-- low self-esteem
-- needs all the social trappings
-- nurturing (of children and ??)
-- low self-esteem
-- self-critical (she lays bare her weaknesses in her book)
-- not materialistic
-- self-conscious = self-absorbed
-- melancholic or perhaps manic-depressive
-- sense of humor
I feel like there's so much more that could be said. As Ginny notes, our opinions frequently change as we further into the book and the discussion so I don't know how my views of Letty and Margaret will stand a few weeks from now. And like Lou I see a bit of myself in both Letty and Margaret.
On the pumpkin incident (page 44)
"Still," he said, turning into our drivway, "we can take comfort in the fact that we know better. We can gleefuly sneer at those mjisguided fools...That's what I recommend. A hearty dose of gleerful sneering. You may begin now."
"That was my first mistake. If only we'd stuck with the phone and kept Letty's words off the page, I don't believe I'd have done what I did." (p 57)
We need each other to help us know who we are. I learn about myself by how you respond to me and how you respond changes who I am, gradually, over time.
thanks aslo for your comment on the book cover.
I removed the white paper that our library wraps the cover in for interlibrary
loan. You have a good eye.
LOL! I laughed in recognition of myself, as mostly a Letty with some bits of Margaret thrown into the mix! And I rarely laugh that hard at Letty; I get uncomfortable with it being too close to home. Are you more like Letty too? (On second thought, this may be too personal a question.) You thought Margaret was funny from the get-go, but didn't think that of Letty. I think we generally find to be funny that person we least resemble. Because we wince at the idiosyncracies of our dopplegangers?
CallieK, did Margaret really have a plan or was it a dream? She didn't have any idea what she was going to write; she just envisioned having written which to me is a dream and not a plan or process of writing. I was intrigued by your mention of Ted's not supporting, perhaps sabotaging, Margaret's writing which may be what Letty does in critiquing the 'doctor exam' idea. It brings up some questions to mind for which I have no answers:
Betty, love the list of "then I'll be happy things." I have such a list even though I know I ought be happy in the here and now. I do feel the need to have goals (ever-changing though they are) as well as steps to reach those goals. Mal, I'm glad you have the book now. Christina does write beautifully. I laughed hardest at Margaret's writing philosophy and as I read I kept a list of her bon mots.
"Who is responsible for the outcome? Especially, if it turns out badly? The person who influences or the person who acts because of being influenced? Did you get a similar impression? Did this foreshadowing technique stimulate your interest and make you ask yourself the question of responsibility in influencing a friend's decisions?"and I want to get that in the heading also, I think the questions in the heading MAY contain the key to the secret code Pearson talked about! But that's just MY opinion, let's hear yours!!
As a writer, I find writer Margaret hilarious. Writers are creative and assume the Id when actually writing freely. A writer's critical editor (CE), the Superego, comes in later to clean up the sentences, place a metaphor or allusion, fine tune the plot and characters, revise, revise, revise -- making order out of the Id's playtime. Margaret hasn't found that balance in dancing between Writer and Editor. And she's so innocent of how to write; and she procrastinates as most writers do for at least a short period before taking the plunge into a work.
Some of my fav Margaret lines I love as a writer, rather then judging as a CE (CEs are notoriously humorless):
Margaret is hilarious! I really sympathize with her, and Letty too. Yes, these two people are exaggerations but there are certain traits that we (or I) identify with and laughter is great medicine.
"What did I want exactly?...I didn't want fortune....And not fame either. What I desired was far more fundamental and far less grand. I wanted people to meet me and think, "Ah, someone worth my notice.""There...that's about as honest as you can get. Margaret is admitting that she has no self-worth. How can you fault her for wanting to try to reach back into her precocious childhood for some of the daring tools, the magic she once used - to dazzle. (I'm not sure whom it was she dazzled back then, however...could have been as narrow a field as her parents - and Letty.)
"The thing about writing is that you've got to have a real gift for it. Lots of people can write really well---but they don't try to make a living at it. I think," he said cautiously, "that maybe if you did have a gift, we might have noticed it by now. I mean you haven't really written anything." p.13.
1. Many people have remarked that they laughed out loud reading the book. What one incident or turn of phrase struck you as particularly funny?
2. Could you also indicate a passage where the writing seemed particularly evocative or fine, (whether or not it was humorous?)
3. What characteristics, as people share their funniest lines, do these incidents have in common, if any, and what is the effect of these happy moments on the general tone of the book so far?
"I looked under my notebook, then picked it up by the wire binding and shook it. Nothing fell out. My breathing quickened. My armpits prickled. Ted's pen. The pen Ted gave me. The pen that made me a writer. I pushed my chair back and crawled under the table, scanning the floor in all directions. How could I have left it? This was New York, for God's sake! True, it was the cleaner, safer New York, as compared with the last few decades, but this applied only if you were a person, better yet a man, on certain subway routes and downtown streets, not if you were a gold-nibbed Mont Blanc on a public library table."
But what might happen if Letty, with her knack for writing, unguardedly and loyally writes excellent ideas and commentary about Margaret's book? Margaret wants sooo passionately to be acknowledged as a writer, to be SOMEONE. I don't get good vibes about this...Whoo, Harriet, right on!!
I wanted them to recognize me for the person I believed I truly was….
“Why do you care what others think?” This is what my mother would say. But I did care. I suppose because I, unlike my mother, would never be quite sure that I was someone to be reckoned ith, until someone else told me so.” (page 114).
Margaret's voice" I too laughed frequently but felt her "voice" reflected satire ( a literary style holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn).
“One of the trickiest (is that a word?) things in a loving relationship is questioning or criticizing the loved one without seeming to be against the person. I think Ted struggles with that, particularly because Margaret is so defensive with her reasons (excuses) for not writing..” And Letty’s email!
And THIS: “Margaret has opinions and ideas and plunges ahead with both without considering the effect on others. Then she gets defensive when her efforts aren't rewarded as she thinks they will be/should be.”
Fortunately, she marries a man who can put a damper on her outbursts without making her want to get revenge (as she does with everyone else....except Letty)wow.
“It means you do what you believe to be right.”
“then I hope that all uf is in this class have ingtegrity.”
“Well, we don’t. Letty does.” (page 18).
In a flashback Margaret describes Letty to the world, that’s the word she chooses in the sixth grade.
How would we describe the Letty we see?
---“Was the patron being patronizing already?” (page 48) Hahahahaha, just as funny now as it was the first time.
(I loved that whole dynamic about how now that Ted was paying the bills, did his opinion matter more? Boy you could get into THAT one!!)
“If he said, ‘Reach for the rock on the right,’ did I owe it to him to obey? If I thought the left was better, should he trust me? What sort of a team were we exactly?”
Is that not true? Anybody who has ever been in a marriage where one spouse was the wage earner KNOWS what’s being said there, and it’s true. I loved that!
---”Didion created an ominous mood and suggested an impending threat of suicide, divorce and murder with her description of the Santa Ana wind, but when I thought about that weather the words that came to mind were ‘dry hair’ and ‘allergic reactions’.” Hahahaha HAHAHAA (page 49)
---“I bent to my own page, lowering my own cheek somewhat.” (page 66).
I don’t know what you CALL this type of writing, but it’s very dear and very funny.
*Hey, do any of you wipe up the public bathroom counters for the next person? Fess up!! Hahahahaa*
---”Left to their own devices, however, Robert and his mother would do nothing but eat.” (page 73) haahahah HAHAHAHA
---“And he shops for groceries. To support the cooking. “ (page 81) hahaaha
On such an evening the sense that I was a writer--and even that I was the kind of writer who might be considered an artist—was palpable. I had the giddy feeling that this city was both my home—which meant I could claim its attendant rich human drama as my own— and a piece of theater I would view at a remove, a spectacle from which I could borrow shade and tones and a succession of characters who would, if I listened closely enough, whisper to me their amusing or poignant narratives. It seems on such evenings that capturing life on paper would be almost as easy as observing it.
My novel bubbled from me as we luxuriated in all New York had to offer. I would outline for Ted the various maneuvers I’d put Robert through each day, while we dodged Rollerbladers along the riverside promenade to Battery Park or walked block after block uptown. I proposed options for the next day's charge as we combed the bricks near the Metropolitan Museum for metal admission buttons casually discarded on the way out by those who’d paid the suggested amount….
while we held hands perched on the balustrade under the trees in Bryant Park, waiting for the free movie to begin, or two-stepped under the stars at Lincoln Plaza to the open-air bands. On the Staten Island Ferry with our faces turned to the breeze, and strolling late at night past Korean groceries overflowing with plums and green onions and black-eyed Susans, we debated whether Mrs. Martin would have called her son “Bob,” or “Rob,” and bandied army nicknames about.” (74-75)
"If Margaret were really a writer, she'd have to write, confident or not. She'd want some feedback and would seek out reactions to what she had written from Ted and probably Letty, though Letty is too kind-hearted to be a reliable critic. She'd say what she thought Margaret wanted to hear instead of what she really thought.I do not dislike Margaret. I think she's the deluded product of her parents' and her own making. Her parents raised her to think she was superior, and she did her best to live up to that, even refusing to call herself "Peggy" (something else her parents insisted on ) because it would belittle her. Margaret says on Page 7, "Letty was not so driven, which was at least in part the fault of her family. I think her parents must have had big plans for her because they named her Letitia, but there never was all that much get-up-and-go in the Larue household, and they let her name lapse into Letty almost immediately."
"As it is, Margaret has written and done nothing, so has nothing to ask anyone to critique. Letty, on the other hand, is always asking for critiques of what she does and is never afraid to do it."
"She was sorry that she hadn't tried more with her own tree ( and bought the easier, better glue! ), so she was going to work hard so that she'd always beat Letty and come out on top."
Frugal provides the definition of satire: a literary style holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn. In www.yis.ac.jp the definition goes a little further in saying that the intention of satire is to be corrective. And the butt of the satire could be an individual, a class, an institution, a nation or even mankind in general.
I personally feel that it's society which is the butt of this satiric humor and not Margaret and Letty individually.
There are so many wonderful posts and I'm trying to catch up with the comments but I was stopped by the speculation of Margaret and Letty at age 50. What would they be like? Interesting. I liked what BETTY said, that the thought of Margaret at age 50 "made me wonder..if ths low confidence, this agony of social pressure and self-imposed deadlines, this feeling lesser than....is all in process, is developmental, is what all new writers go through, to some extent. Thinking about what Margaret would be like at 50 takes the edge off my frustration with her .... Who knows what's possible for Margaret."
I agree. I feel there's a possibility of growth for Margaret and it is true that she's undergoing the pangs of a novice writer who hasn't yet gotten her balance. She could find out that she is a writer if she keeps writing.
GINNY asked us to consider the paper hanging incident and what sort of friend Letty is to Margaret.
I feel there is competition and resentment between these two best friends, L&M. They both feel they lack some validation of their worth and Margaret has decided having a novel published would achieve that for her. (And I find it hilarious that EVERYONE feels free to advise Margaret on writing. And they'd write too if they only had the TIME as if -- having judged themselves to be intelligent and interesting -- time is, therefore, the only missing ingredient to actually writing.) So Margaret is taking the time and is having a difficult TIME of it, doing this thing called writing. She turns to Letty with her self-declared smashing plot.
GINNY asks "What would a real friend do?" if they hate the plot outline?
One the one hand, I can say that Letty should support her friend because there are enough critics in the world. But...but... If Letty is honest would she save Margaret from months of working on an unmarketable outline? Letty was being practical because the little trick that made the plot worked, did not, itself, work as a trick. And did Letty know any better about giving honest advise? She didn't voice to Margaret her doubts about the "blue ball" called Nefretiti so why now with the plot outline? Is it envy of M having the opportunity to achieve recognition? Is it competition?
If a friend is drowning and calls to you on the shore to toss them an anchor, do you throw the anchor at them as a supportive friend would? Or do you toss them a life preserver or swim out into the currents to save them?
I think one question that should be asked in the paper-hanging scenario is: What sort of friend is Margaret to Letty? She's asking a friend, one she knows isn't a writer or editor, for opinions on a novel. She expects a submissive yes-woman rather than honesty? And when Letty tells her the plot problem, Margaret stops dead in her tracks and doesn't look for a solution. Isn't M making her friend Letty take the responsibility of the botched plot?
Generally, professional writers don't talk about their work until they have a substantial part done and they choose who they ask opinions of, if they ask at all. Either you write or you don't. It's up to you and no one else has the responsibility for the writing and the creative joy that goes along with it.
L is stuck in the friend role with Margaret and while she points out the plot problem she tries to cheerfully say that M can find a way around it. Does she know that Margaret doesn't have writing talent? (I'm not sure M doesn't have it. She is, as Betty brilliantly pointed out, at the beginning stage of writing.) L wouldn't know that but she can point out the plot problem. L would know that M is unsure of herself. In lacking self-esteem, they are both strikingly similar.
To sum up, M wasn't a good friend to L to place her in the position she did. L pointed out a practical problem which could be helpful -- except M overreacted and tossed out the entire idea -- but L is also critical in subtle ways and this may have a lot to do with low self-esteem and the undeclared competition. I find in most of Letty's emails that there's hidden in them subtle criticisms as well as the continual mention of material things.
An example of subtle criticism is this conversation she reports to M: L writes that Michael had once dismissed the dingy gray of his former university office at the time
So there's a strong loving side to L but also this need to subtly criticize as she did with Michael in this example and as she did with Margaret over the outline plot. Maybe it's a way of leveling the playing field.
I also still see M as assuming too much when she brought L into critiquing the writing. L couldn't win. Either honest or dishonest, she wouldn't be doing M a favor. M should have just kept writing and the little things like plots and characterizations get resolved, if they get resolved, in the process of writing.
Mal, I admit with shame that I've never been to New York; that the thought of it is rather frightening. Now, I'm not afraid of physical danger. I've lived all over the world during wars and in peace but New York seems to me to embody American Society and that's where I feel timid. Being a Westerner I am familiar with, and love, San Francisco; enjoy the San Diego beaches and sun; am even fond of LA nightlife -- but no New York for me. I think I'd have to know somebody who lived there before I visited.
I guess there are different sorts of writers? Mal says that 'writing is hard work. It's not fun and games.' I feel it's both?
As a writer I juggle two hats; one being the Critical Editor (hard work) and the other hat being the Playful Writer (fun and games). First, you get an idea and partially develop it (CE). Then you take it and run (PW=playful writer). And you go back and forth between the two. With me, the playful writer gets the most emphasis in the beginning of the writing process. I never know what I'm thinking about something until after I've written it out, and gone round in circles, and veered off into the ditch of other inspirations, and somewhere in there the CE finds my thought. I couldn't be -- wouldn't want to be -- a writer without both the hard work AND the fun and games!
..."people are greedy and foolish, and wish to haveI had been thinking of Margaret and Ted, Letty and Michael as dance partners. Each pair is attempting to shine, in a way. BUT in the dance, there is ONE partner who does the leading, one who follows.
and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good of life."
She never said, "how are you? I am fine." She never delivered a long dull list of the day's activities or described a setting in brochure terms. Instead, she jumped into the good stuff. The secret, I realized, was in the detail. She did not just paint her toenails, she painted them “Very Cherry,"
I am not ashamed to say that I modeled my own missives after hers, stuffing them with colors and textures and crumbs of conversation I'd never otherwise had noted even to myself. Thanks to her lead, when I was writing to Letty, my own everyday would became surprisingly full and amusing, nearly as fascinating as those of past civilizations. Sometimes, before I sealed the envelope, I marveled at all that had happened to ms. (page 170).
The gracious width of the hallways between unscuffed, custard-colored walls. The brown-sugar -stained floor boards…Her children’s desks were made of "reclaimed" pine, their well-grained surfaces gently "distressed." They evoke history: the farmwife scrubbing, one hand spreading the scouring sand, scooped form the creek bed at dawn , the other wielding the rough, homespun cloth, dipped in clear water, also scooped form the creek at dawn. Or the young scholar, sleeve secured in an elastic band, polishing the wood with his elbow as he declines his Greek nouns with a quill dipped in ink..." (page 187).
I throw them the life preserver and swim out just like they taught us to in life saving school which I did not pass.
She didn't voice to Margaret her doubts about the "blue ball" called Nefretiti so why now with the plot outline? Is it envy of M having the opportunity to achieve recognition? Is it competition? If a friend is drowning and calls to you on the shore to toss them an anchor, do you throw the anchor at them as a supportive friend would? Or do you toss them a life preserver or swim out into the currents to save them?
Carolyn and Mal, I think there is vanity of both sorts in the novel. The personal vanity, according to my dictionary, is "pride in one's appearance, qualities, achievements, etc; SYN egotism, ostentation." Biblical vanity is basically a judgment of the personal; saying that such things are pointless (aka worthless, trivial) since they are temporal.
Speaking of vanity, Margaret certainly lost a lot in that attic while looking for her promise
What M finds:
-- an overambitious (smug?) essay's heft "how had I managed to string so many sentences together?"
-- her Valentine poem of flattened, scientific accuracy "Birds-of-paradise are orange and also purple at the spine. I hope you will be my Valentine."
What does M make of her find? precocity and self conscious straining. "Had I been, after all, only an overachiever type, who, in fact, had not managed even to overachieve?"
She finds letters written between her and Letty. "Letty was born knowing how to write letters....The secret, I realized, was in the detail."
Out of all of the things in Margaret's box, it is Letty's chatty letters -- and the memories of their childhood friendship -- that she cherishes and takes downstairs with her, rather than her own art or writings.
This is the final breaking point for M, I think. She's lost her dreams (her vanity!) Is Letty's friendship not vanity -- has Margaret reached that point yet? Not sure.
Ginny, it's the complete shattering of M that got me, esp these last lines as she takes Letty's letters with her:
“Work hard! I would have been happy to work hard. It wasn’t that I was lazy. It was just that I didn’t know what, exactly to do. Telling a person work hard on a novel is like telling a person to think. You can’t just do it on command.” (page 185)
”I felt, for the first time in my married life, utterly alone….dragging my way across the hard sands of the endless, empty beige desert below. Deliberately, one by one, I ate all of my peanuts. At least I would make good on that.” (page 181)
I think there is vanity of both sorts in the novel. The personal vanity, according to my dictionary, is "pride in one's appearance, qualities, achievements, etc; SYN egotism, ostentation." Biblical vanity is basically a judgment of the personal; saying that such things are pointless (aka worthless, trivial) since they are temporal.
"I knew exactly what Michael was earning, including possible bonuses and the criteria for such bonuses, because Letty and I didn't keep this sort of information from each other. I knew what private schools cost and what they'd spent redecorating their kitchen. I considered property taxes and estimated likely repairs...orthodontia expenses...the value of the new property against what they were likely to earn if they invested their money conservatively in the stock market. All of this did not add up to financial disaster, but it did entail a close-cutting that allowed for no mistakes, no accidents, no family vacations, and very little retirement savings."
FRUGAL, it looks like both M&L are spiraling downwards. Margaret's self-concept has taken a beating and she was fragile emotionally anyway. Letty is "overextending her finances." Remember how HATS noted the pre-upscale Letty's fine touches?
Now Margaret describes -- quite effectively and beautifully -- "Letty's new granite kitchen counters ...[which] were covered with unaffordable fruits. Teeny wild blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, and champagne grapes were heaped in pint-sized plastic baskets next to cardboard trays of apricots, each globe nested safely in its own molded depression. A green glass bowl I recognized from the Williams-Sonoma catalog was mounded with ripe persimmons. Blood oranges were packed in excelsior in two small wooden crates." (172)
No more local produce. The fruit has to be expensive and exotic (blood oranges, not plain ole everyday oranges). Each fruit packaged like a gem, each fruit a stress-producing duty to do SOMETHING showy with, something other than EATING. I miss the abundance of oranges for juicing.
Thunder storm just starting. Have to sign off for a bit.
"I kept my arms in this position (arms crossed over chest) when I reached the sidewalk, so as to contain the fury the hissed and sizzled and popped within me. I started walking fast, my head tucked down and forward, a battering ram aimed squarely at this city and its inhabitants, a large proportion of whom were now forcing me against the pipes of a block-long stretch of scaffolding we were all squeezing through like ground meat in a sausage casing."That's New York City, folks, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a writer.
I think she would have loved it if she could have found an immediate job, played the tragic heroine, and made both Ted and HERSELF believe that only finances had stood between her and world fame as a literary genius
My sympathy for her has become so complete that I can't bear the pain of watching her go through disappointment after disappointment. I can hardly manage to read the ego destroying events and revelations she endures in the second section of the book.
As she continues, she becomes more introspective. She begins to write about her feelings. She begins to criticize Michael. However, she doesn't stop to listen to Margaret and I don't think she realizes how insecure Margaret is. After all, Margaret has always been the strong one in their friendship. I wonder if Letty even reads Margaret's e-mails. She never comments on them; she just writes about her own life.
Neither Margaret or Letty was receiving the type of reflection from their husbands that she received from her friend, so there was a certain kind of incompleteness in them unless they were together face to face, on the phone, or in letters and emails. Neither had become strong enough on her own to accept what their heads told them they were, right or wrong.
So give it a shot, those ARE the places the pen fell other than the ones with the names on, can you pick who said what? Trick question in here hahahaha.
1. We get a Williamette Valley Syrah, two bottles—even thought we never even half finish the second, and two desserts, perhaps a cocoanut crème brulee and a flourless chocolate cake, accompanied by a small pile of forks and spoons, so everyone can taste, and espresso all round.
2. I spent the remainder of the week weeding through my school files, admiring the discussion topics I’d teased from The House of Mirth and chuckling at the clever sentences I’d composed for spelling quizzes.
3. The analogy was not at all clear to me, but I forbore pointing that out.
4. The driveway slipped gracefully through a small grove of eucalyptus to a parking area where we left the Tercel next to a silver Lexus SUV and a bronze BMW coupe (Jeannett’s husband must drive the gold car).
5. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I shouldn’t be distracted by petty issues like nomenclature and authentic weaving materials.
I’ve had to discard every quote which referred to husbands or children (instant give aways) and when the pen fell on a blank spot, and HEREEEE’s the last one, and it’s a toughie.
6. That’s all right…It’ll grow back.
This interests me so I'll follow the thread of the questions. I tried to do the same once with gambling in an SN discussion of The House of Mirth.
The stock is a gamble (introduced by M's brother Warren, the investment broker, pages 161-2) and luck plays a part in winning or losing. The 'fat pill' was a clever marketing ploy since it's target customer is the fashionably-thin who frantically crave being thinner as well as the obese. It seems a winner IF it passes the round of scientific/FDA tests.
Putting money into the stock market is a gamble but one can be intelligent in that gamble. The rich can play with stocks, the comfortably well-off middle class invest in stocks, but the desperate should stay away. However, there are people who feel they can't catch up to the Joneses (or what is their ideal of the well-off Joneses) because there isnt enough money = not enough social power and prestige. These people gamble as the last ditch effort of the hopeless; they've lost the belief that 'you can do anything you want to do if you apply yourself.'
It's why poor people are the major customers of State Lotteries -- its the only 'real' way they see of getting out of their situation and even then they realize deep in their hearts that the possibility of winning is dangerously close to being nonexistent. (Sadly, most of the big winners are people who already have lots of money!)
Yet, a poor person buys that lottery ticket because they see it as the only chance left in a society which, in theory, exalts the self-made person but, in reality, restrains the upward movement of the average person. Gambling -- whether stocks or lottery tickets -- are carrots on strings dangling enticingly in front of the needy.
Letty and Margaret (and hubbys) are not poor; but they aren't rich either. The middle class might invest in stocks and do so comfortably with a portfolio as Margaret's parents do. For someone else, needing money, to place all their $$$$ dreams in the gamble of a stock -- that's pure desperation and not a feeling of real possibility, of 'you can do anything you want to do if you apply yourself.' You're putting your fate into someone/something other than yourself.
Ann Lamott [who is she?] often mentioned the value of the writing groups as a source of artistic and emotional sustenance. Perhaps Zelda, [ as in Fitzgerald??] after she read my chapter, would be interested in forming such a group with me. We could meet in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel on Thursday evenings and critique each other’s work.
You know, Jimmy Smithers, over in the math department writes poetry. Maybe we could all get together. Form a little writing group. We could serve wine and hors d’oeuvres. Tea for the non drinkers.” (pages 209-210)
But he was relentless…”writing group,” he was saying. “Thinking of taking a semester off to write it up.”
A year ago, despite my public protestations to the contrary, I’d been pretty sure that an elevated place in the world had been reserved specifically for me. I’d assumed that I only needed to reveal my long-hidden talent, to throw off the bushel basket, so to speak, and those who had disdained me would gather round in awe to admire my light. But what if, after all, I had no light?? What if the basket had been a useful cover allowing me to pass among those who otherwise would discern my undesirability. I now had to consider the possibility that I’d thrown off my bushel basket….
There are two other mentions of a Writing Group [WG], actually the first two mentions. Simon announces he's leaving the library (91-3):
Then Margaret broaches the subject of a Writing Group to Ted (98-101). She'd prepared/padded out a writing example and
I think that the Writing Group is suggested as a sop by Simon, a path of least resistance to 'writers' who have trouble writing. Margaret considers it and it's looking outside yourself when you feel you can't do anything you set your mind to doing, at least not on your own. Desperation; low self-esteem; boxed in. Margaret wildly hopes (without hope) that someone who hasn't written, who may not have the talent, can be taught to be a writer just like plumbing can be taught. This is similar to the hopes of gamblers/investors who don't have the money to gamble. 'We can't achieve on our own, so we'll put the responsibility onto the system (teaching or stock market).
I'll mention too that I think of this book as a social satire -- not one poking fun at or criticizing Letty, Margaret and the rest but a satire on society itself.
Joan, you said of Margaret: "... those early 'precocious projects' all seem to have been an artful presentation of the work of others. Surely there must be some niche, some place such talent can be chanelled?"
I know we've talked about Margaret's lack of imagination. We know she can write but she can't create out of whole cloth. She doesn't consider nonfiction writing? Only TGAN is suitable for her, she thinks but I agree that there is a place for her talent.
Right now Margaret is using Letty's email as an exercise, "a jumping off point from which I would then create my own character." Ah, we know nothing beyond this exercise (2 pages of Letty's writing to 3 pages of Margaret's) but I see danger in this!
Most writers use little snippits of people they know or observe -- a gesture, a way of speaking -- and it's only one little betrayal but Margaret has trouble creating; of jumping off from the known into the unknown territory of the imagination. Maybe Margaret will tell L she's been her Muse and Letty'll be pleased, or so M hopes.
Andy raised a good point that Margaret doesn't have any close friends outside of Letty. But isn't L in the same position? Both M&L meet up with old school friends and Letty goes to work for hers but that's employer-employee and no friendship now. Nothing close. I think both these women are fairly well isolated within their family group and within their own shaky friendship.
GINNY, I think M didn't send the warning email 'don't buy the house' because then it would stop the potential drama and conflict of the story. Perhaps M is already thinking, and not consciously admitting to herself, that she'll use more of L's continuing foray into upscale LA for her writing.
She was finishing the e-mail when Ted came home. They talked, decided to go out to dinner and M took the time to print out her five page exercise on Lexie and only then did she shut down the computer. It could have been too late by then, but it was definitely late by the next day. The ultimate decision to buy, yes, that belongs to Letty and Michael. Yet there was still time to back out of the housebuying -- and for M to send the e-mail, but Margaret never sent it, not ever. Another issue of responsibility? Or would GINNY say that M should support L's desire to buy the house; or at least not to interfere? I still think it was M's unacknowledged desire to let the drama play out that caused her silence on the housebuying.
I like the idea of social satire by region, BETTY, that there are different ways to shine in society. The desperate may try the lottery or the stocks, or buying Guadalajara patio tiles. Yup, guess it's the drinking water.
We all of us agree, MAL, about what M&L are doing and not doing. That's the foundation for considering motivation, responsibility, the nature of friendship, women's relationships, family pressure, what status in society actually consists of, etc -- all the issues that Vanity has brought to our collective minds.
I've been observed ROFLOL at some of the writer's advice from the other characters in this novel. One remark I'm especially fond of is "Remember that Emily Dickinson couldn't get published in her lifetime." I'm thinking about using that as my new tagline. Mal, as a writer, do you have any lines you care to share that got you howling with laughter?
QUESTION FOR CHRISTINA:
Did you consciously think about writing a modern epistolary novel? did you start out with that idea, or did it grow out of the writing process? What's the good, the bad, or the ugly with this writer's technique? (This question may be too open-ended, sorry.)
I should have asked first rather than just saying I was gonna do it!
The question with Letty's pinpricking of the plot was 'should a friend support another friend no matter what?' I didn't think it was cut and dried and wondered 'if a friend is drowning at sea and cries out for an anchor, does a true friend throw them the anchor? or does a friend throw them a life preserver and swim out to help?'
Was Letty right in opposing M's plot of the Vietnam Vet? Or is M right in being silent about Letty's housebuying? all along silent since the LA visit? Were the actions of both situations helpful to the friend or themselves?
Here are some of the possible choices facing Margaret when told of the housebuying, what I can think of anyway:
Of these choices, silence is easiest on M although not good for L. The rest of the choices are active involvement and can be intrusive; friendships can be lost this way. Silence is good if you want to keep things easy for yourself and keep the friendship even as the friend drowns?
Is there really one good answer to this question of a friend's responsibility?
Hope Christina can help with this.
Page 227: "I'll admit only to you, Margaret, that I wanted to hurry her in, out of sight of the neighbors who would surely note that her jeans have elastic at the back of the waist and her shoes, chosen strictly for comfort, have laces dyed to match the leather. My father's hair is too carefully combed for this neighborhood. And when did he start wearing Sansabelts?"
I look at that vaulted ceiling and that chandelier (which, unfortunately the previous owners are taking***here's the voice of Reality intervening*** ) and the thick kelly green lawns that roll out in all directions on those hills and I feel like a real person would live in this house. Not the sort of person who would repair a car with string.Letty is going to be a “real person,” without those Hyacinth Bucket relatives of her past, because of the real estate she has “bought” or “borrowed for.” And since that’s all it takes in her mind now the New Letty, to BE such a person, and since you will always meet somebody with a bigger pocket or propensity to borrow, she is now on the upwardly mobile track and can’t turn back: she’s denied her roots.
Sorry, I had to whoop it up a bit; but we are so lucky here in SN to be able to talk to her and get our questions answered personally. This is such a wonderful gift to us.
Hi Christina! What insight you've given us about young students and they ways they can be drawn into reading and with what they read. I do love the "swim with the chickens" line; shows the teacher to be rather silly and here Margaret tries to make sense of it. So maybe with a little more time/age, Margaret will see that she isn't always wrong. And that sometimes what she can't understand is not her fault but just may be obtuse and silly.
Right now, the more desperate she is about producing a novel, the harder she tries, and the more painful it is for me to watch/read. To stand to one side, unable to reach either Margaret or Letty, is achingly painful.
Need to get thoughts together and I'll post later tonight. As usual, Ginny, you've given us a lot to think about.
WHAT IF, you came in here this morning and were told that it was necessary for all of us to read Passage X and answer some questions? Passage X is going to be difficult. I contend that it’s the attitude we go IN with which would tell the tale, even before we saw the passage..
Some people approach with confidence in their own reading ability, knowing that no matter how obtuse it is, they WILL conquer it, their entire approach is divide and conquer, by methods and tricks if necessary, but they WILL come out on top. They have conquered Passage X before they even begin it and are irritated if it does not go well. Irritated at the text, not themselves.
Others approach it fearfully with a lot of experience in not understanding behind them, but they’ll try, and they’ll give it their best. They are reasonably hopeful.
Some stab at it and laugh the experience off, it was a ”dumb thing to do” anyway.
Some are petrified to even try, and unpleasantly threatened by the very suggestion: not why they came.
I expect there are as many different approaches as there are Readers, what would YOURS be?
Materialism and consumerism seem to be a religion in our society today.I don't think our world is better for this. Letty is a follower of this religion. Margaret is the opposite her pride is in her intellect material things are not so important and yet both of these women are under the same delusion but in different ways. Letty is kidding herself she is in the jet set and Margaret is kidding herself she is a writer. Vanity indeed.
So far (to page 227) I don't see Letty suffering continual blows or undergoing a spiritual struggle, not yet anyway, and perhaps that's why I haven't as much connection with her. I've always admired the Margarets who are out there visibly trying, however wrong their goals may be. I keep hoping Margaret will finally define her own role.
I love that point and it is true, oh so
true! A malignant spirit inhabits us throughout each and every
stage of our life. We become rascals and rogues in various ways and
of course with varying severity.
Who hasn't become maniacal and had their passions aroused? It may be frenzied writing as our Margaret can testify to or infernal buying that Lettie is consumed with.
With each stage of our lives a different
drama unfolds, the limelight changes and the theatre act begins.
What could be next for Margaret?
Oh- Mal: What an honest, "first string" woman you are. Excellency is indeed a rare commodity and to attempt to be "top notch" in any endeavor is pain stakingly difficult. I am pleased with my mediocrity and unexceptional talents.
Is this a funny book? I was reading it in a restaurant on the road the other night and laughed out loud at least three times. Last night too. I can't say I identify with anyone,(maybe Ted -- too bad he doesn't have Quicken) but have come across several instances of deja-vu, having been there. Like Letty's dad, I wonder how my son does it -- the house, the the braces, the music lessons. And then his sister, living at the other end of the scale served me salad with nasturtum leaves from her own organic garden. The matrons of Westwood have nothing on the Charlottesville kid.
As I read your posts and the book itself I keep wishy washing my feelings about L and M, so should probably hold them. But I really don't like Margaret very much. She's still selfish. She may think she's concerned about her friend, but those feelings take a back seat to whatever is best for Margaret.
I also bought an orange-picker at the flea market, o we'll be ready when the oranges come. This will be some time after we plant the trees against the side fence. Which will be after we install the side fence. Which should be sometime next week. One cannot buy fruit north of Wiltshire from the shopping carts of illegal immigrants, at least I've not seen any yet, so I've decided we'll grown our own. The children can pick the oranges for juice , after their morning tai chi workout with Michael. I'm going to enroll him in a class that meets in Glenview park at dawn next month and once he gets the basics down he can teach the kids. This, in any case, is my plan, although it means that Michael will have to become an early riser....
A party for the museum people is a brilliant idea.
(See who that came from?)
Something outdoors , obviously, since the kitchen is still just a shell and Michael and I will be sleeping in the living room, (where, as I've mentioned, I also make toast) at least until Christmas. We just have to put in a terrace and some plants, which we were going to do anyway. Scheduling a party will give us a firm deadline, so we'll avoid the trap that lots of people seem to fall into, letting projects like this go on and on.
You're scrolling forward impatiently. "The party, the party, you're muttering. Let's hear more about the party." (page 283)
I think Margaret's biggest demon is she can not accept herself. Maybe "All is Vanity" means nothing is worth more than knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves. Vanity is working to prove ourselves to the next guy.
With each stage of our lives a different drama unfolds, the limelight changes and the theatre act begins.
What could be next for Margaret?
“Twelve!” This shocked even Lexie.
This reaction of mine is more about me than Letty. In fact, I love what we're doing with this discussion....letting our individual reactions to these characters be as important to report as our more analytical look at the writing.
I ronically, there is a strange sort of payoff from attaching being worthy of notice to a point in the future. In a way, you're off the hook. You've given away power to a thing or point in the future....and, hey, what can you do? Your hands are tied, right?
Your unfolding of the epistolary form is a wonderful gift to us. "[It's] essential to capture the personality of the writer AND the reader in a letter .... [And learning from another writer's work, there's] the 'trick' of interrupting a letter with the immediate events going on in the writer's life ...." As we've gotten deeper into the novel, the interruptions in letter writing do make for a breathless, dangerous pace. We KNOW that something's radically wrong and changing for these two women.
Modern women do have more opportunities, unlike Emma Bovary. And some women put too much pressure on themselves like L&M who seem to believe, or act, 'if you have a shot at being President and aren't, you are a failure.'
About Vanity readers: just picture SN posters (Vanities as Ginny might say, has said?) engrossed in reading Vanity. And Ginny has her colored pens, busily marking the pages!
I cracked up reading about your husband approaching the woman who did not think your novel was "well written." Oh good grief, what a comedown; hiding behind a pole anticipating kudos, galore, only to be horrified at such a remark. (Oh, what did she know anyway, Christina?) My daughter was horrified because I approached a woman reading The Little Friend at the pool on Sannibel Island. I wanted to know what she thought of the book (plus get her interested in SeniorNet) and she did NOT respond the way that I wished, so I stood there and argued my points in favor of the novel as my daughter put her book in front of her face, slid further down into her chaise and groaned aloud. How did you restrain yourself from coming out from behind that pole and darned near choking her? It left me with great joy thinking about my reaction to that. Does your husband still insist on such approaches?
I agree 100% that we write for our audience. We communicate
with each friend differently, I believe, whether it be on paper, the phone
or face to face.
We have a kaleidescope of interactions, depending on the remarks, the contents and the individual we are exhanging thoughts with.
An outline! Good grief, sometimes I need a blueprint to just get through the day.
"Michael is not the sort of person who cares only about the bottom line and what's in it for him. He is a generous modest man, who doesn't know his own worth." (298)
I believe it's Letty who handles the money in their family (like Ted except Ted isn't secretive) and, from the way Letty speaks of him, she sees Michael as somehow floating above the natural world in a space all his own. So she is the treasurer of the family. I'd say big mistake there EXCEPT the first to be seduced the Otis was Michael, oh that honey panelling; and the first big expenditure was Michael's new upscale Saab. Michael is definitely part of the problem.
In some ways being poor is beneficial for me. I don't want to keep up with the Jones's...but, then, such temptation isn't accessible to me anyway. No home or car decisions to make. What extra coins I can squeeze out of my budget goes to books, and books are not socially upscale unless you're a famous collector like Getty. Instead, I search for comfy looking used books, well-loved and the cheaper the better.
The one comment that rankles me is when Margaret tells Letty that purchasing the house will give the children fond memories of their life in it as they mature. The kids loved the old house; they were happy there! And Letty eagerly grabbed at that alibi of 'buying memories for the children'! Okay, okay, they aren't real flesh-and-blood people, but still....
Ginny, the accident with the SUV and Letty's tin Toyota? The SUV hit the Toyota at a stop, from behind, and the woman screeches about Letty backing up (which she didn't) and how Letty was trying to claim insurance...screech screech screech. And Letty is upset because she's going to be blamed?
I think the scene shows how someone, the woman, ASSUMES PRIVILEGE and another person, Letty, IS COWED BY THAT ASSUMPTION. Letty still feels like she climbed over the tennis court fence to where she doesn't belong and isn't welcomed. And the woman who caused the accident acts secure in her privileged position. She's worthy, Letty is not. Letty remembers that a tony commercial was filmed at the SUV owners house ... which again proves to Letty her lower status.
As you said "there is a price to pay for never being real just to avoid upset." And there's also a price to pay for being real with stress and the potential ls of a friend.
How much of a friend is Letty? As Callie mentioned, Letty doesn't ask about Margaret or include M in the marvelous stream of words in the Letty-emails.
There are betrayals by Margaret with identity theft and encouraging harmful behavior; and betrayals by Letty with lack of personal interest in Margaret, a kind of selfish blindness by Letty, and lukewarm support of M's writing.
I'd like to ask Christina about the idea of two people, Letty and Margaret, who, when their traits are combined, equal one writer. Was this a consideration of Christina's when developing the characters? Two halves of a writer's persona? Or perhaps two halves of any person's personality?
Berginsky's response to Margaret's writing assignment, a scene of 2 school girls with one cheating on a test: "Some reference might perhaps be made to the Native American experience, as compared, for instance, with the Khmer Rouge -- the Red Man and the Reds, as it were .... My advice to you is to juggle the odd sizes. Swim with the chickens. Turn the details inside out until they smoke, threatening combustion. Also, don't use so many adverbs."
Oh my gosh, that is priceless. Berginsky goes off into the stratosphere, brings in Shakespeare even (especially?), Red Man and Reds, two worlds -- all babblespeak -- and he closes with the grammar suggestion. He totally forgot the story of the school girls for which he was providing 'advice', as he was too busy impressing himself with his own comments. In a postscript he shows his complete disengagement with M's actual story: "How do the cheating little girls fit in?" ROFLOL
I like what you say, Hats, about the easy road to friendship which is of dubious merit: "Tell a lie and keep a friend." It's a balancing act then, this friendship road? Be supportive of a friend's interest yet tell the truth as you see it? And be a cautious sounding board?
How many betrayals, big and little, there are in "Vanity" and in life!
Frugal, in continuing with thoughts re question 8, I think that Ted knows who Margaret is writing about even though he calls them 'these people' 'These people' are Lexie and Miles, aka Letty and Michael.
Ted was in Los Angeles to see the frentic lifestyle beginning. Although we don't see interaction between Ted & Letty/Michael and I wonder how close he feels to them; Ted knew of the too expensive housebuying (225). Right after the LA Christmas trip Ted brings the Ledger and Margaret together to talk sternly about Kitchen Tiles -- influenced by Letty's expensive kitchen remodel? Probably.
Letty emails Margaret that Michael's job/salary is in jeopardy and that she'd confessed to him their great debt situation. Margaret wants to fly to LA.
Just as Ted knows the reason for the proposed emergency trip to LA, he knows, therefore, that 'these folks' in Margaret's novel are Letty and Michael. His "Oh Margaret!" is disapproval and disappointment, I believe, knowing the writing is a betrayal of friendship and not an 'original' novel.
However, Ted never directly confronts Margaret with 'you're writing about friends. Should you be doing that?' He keeps up the myth of the novel and the myth of fictional characters and he does his own betrayal: "It's a great story -- the expensive home, the new schools, the SUV, the Teutonic dishwasher .... On every other page [I read] I just wanted to jump in and warn these poor people." (313) But he doesn't warn them, does he? Was the warning remark a dig at Margaret? I don't know; he stopped her after all from flying to LA. Is Ted supporting or betraying Margaret by ignoring the Letty inspiration to her novel? Surely he knows only disaster can come from that theft. Is he betraying friends by his silence?
Ted even points out the difference (warns M) between 'these people' not knowing how they got themselves into disaster and his/Margaret's situation with the infamous Ledger.
So many different ways to betray and support; and differing levels of responsibility.
In the end I think it is Yates’s relentless, unflinching investigation of our secret hearts, and his speaking to us in language as clear and honest and unadorned and unsentimental and uncompromising as his vision, that makes him such a great writer. (The Collected Stories of Richard Yates)
I also think that Margaret controls Lettie like a writer/author controls a character in a story, through her suggestions as to what Lettie should purchase and do
(This, by the way, is, as Letty would say never-before-revealed information.)I did think I would use that pretty much from the beginning--one friend stealing what another friend wrote was part of my original idea. Of course, I ran into problems with the form immediately. In books like Clarissa, for instance, the letter-writing characters record every moment of a scene, as if they were narrating a story (which, of course, they are), but that is, in fact, a very unnatural way to write a letter. If the letter-writer doesn't create a scene, however, than there really isn't a story anyone would be interested in reading. I looked at Michael Frayn's "The Trick of It"--now there's a well-done, modern epistolary novel--which helped me see that it's essential to capture the personality of the writer AND the reader in a letter, and also showed me the "trick" of interrupting a letter with the immediate events going on in the writer's life, breaking off, for instance, if someone has come to the door and then coming back to the letter to report on the visitor, to make the letter come to life.
It leaves out a few things like his enthusiastic participation in their consumerism.
“ Ashleigh, already among the chosen. Ashleigh, who’d’ not even had to supply the self-defeating SASE to land her work in some of the most sough-after publications in the country….I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich at my desk and, driven purely by my envy of a twenty-two year old girl, added several paragraphs to Lexie’s story.”
The story that was emerging from Letty’s e-mails was a parable of American consumerism. Like Madame Bovary, Lexie (why am I suddenly reminded of LexisNexis) was attempting to conjure for herself the elusive life she thought she glimpsed through other people’s French doors by copying their furnishings down to the doors themselves. It was a simple notion, really, but had it not led, at least once before, to a masterpiece?
That it had also led to the agonizing demise of its protagonist was a detail I somehow managed to overlook.
"Blood rushed into my head at those words. My ears rang, as if Ted had struck me. Finally, however, I realized one key fact. It was not Jeanette who was Letty's enemy. It was I."
"In the morning, I would convince Ted to leave New York for someplace more wholesome and together we could do something that didn't stink of ambition. We could open a bed and breakfast in Oregon or a diner in Ohio. We could bake pies..."
...aspiring unrealistically and making ourselves miserable by grabbing for things that are out of reach, or things that ultimately make us unhappy because we're trying to meet what we believe is society's concept of "SUCCESS", with a capital "S".So would you say one of the cautionary lessons of this book IS...what??
I glanced through the bedroom door at Ted sleeping undisturbed beside the mass of comforter and smashed pillow that marked where I had been. I was overwhelmed suddenly with a sense of loneliness so powerful it brought tears to my eyes.
Once she’d purchased the stock however, it wasn’t very interesting to watch her simply keep track of her growing fortune on the monthly statements. There’s only so much a writer can do with the opening of an envelope, the satisfied nod. The sips of black decaf while pondering: should I sell now or hold? I stretched various poker metaphors this way and that; I put a letter opener shaped like a tiny saber in her hand; I let one statement get lost in the mail for a few tense days, but the chapter drew dull, Robert-like. I sent an e-mail. “Letty,” it read, “what’s going on over there?”
Granted, it's not asking for info, but she is encouraging spending that Letty cannot afford.
Malryn That's an interesting point about lifting material from e-mail. It's not plagerism, but it is taking copyrighted material. No doubt there is a fine line there, but I'm having trouble finding it. For me, Margaret'biggest "sin," if you want to call it that, was not warning Letty about the financial mess she was getting into. Like Ted, she should have wanted to jump in and warn her. For me, the turning point of the novel came when M declined advising the MacMillans not to buy the house.
ChristinaYou grew up not far from my old stamping ground and it was fun to read about bratwursts there in Racine. Next month I go up for a 50th HS reunion -- and will have to ask where we used to go for bratwursts in beer.
"Letty was never so driven, which was at least in part the fault of her family. I think her parents must have had big plans for her when they named here Leticia, but there was never that much get-up-and-go in the Larue household, and they let her name lapse into Letty almost immediately."
"I realize now that it wasn't the name I didn't like, but Margaret herself, who I was beginning to find a bit bossy. Margaret was admired, but Peggy, I believed, would be well-liked. The way Letty was."
That in her mind she will always be Robinson Crusoe and I will always be Friday, I can forgive. Who is not, after all, the heroine of her own life? But that she cared for the world's regard more than she cared for me, how can I forgive that? (Page 367)
Letty writes her letters with Margaret in mind. She is, in a sense, making a character of herself in a story for Margaret—in fact, in an early plan for the novel, I thought of having it turn out that Letty had made everything up. I'm still attracted to that idea.
At the end of the book, she was in shame and punishment mode. She will either continue in self-defeating behaviours to punish herself, or will soon be off again on more unfocused and delusional adventures.
Margaret: It was not that I did not love her. I did love her. I do. But I never gave her my full attention. I never thought of her without being distracted by me….I would be happy now to be dull, and I wouldn’t mind having failed, if I could be a true friend to Letty. But it’s far too late for that. (page 366).
We can lose track of what Letty does and what Margaret has Lexie do because the reality of Letty's life is so fully co-opted by Margaret and given to "Lexie."
(Oh by the way I do see where Letty found out about Margaret fancying herself a Svengali!(page 367)..
“You ask me to consider whether it was the prospect of living in Margaret’s reflected glimmer, and thereby taking on my own glow, that attracted me from the start. If I am honest, I must admit there is some truth in that.” (page 367)
Still it is certainly not her failure, as you suggest, that makes me turn from her now.”
Among the best parts of writing are the splinters of moments when something you've set in motion for no particular reason seems to take on a life of its own
I think the TURNING POINT is the section ending at page 314. Michael and Letty now REALIZE that they're in over their heads financially, the promised land of job and grand house = grand life is an illusion and they can't/won't get out. They're committed to continuing on to the bitter end.
Meanwhile Ted and Margaret are in silent collusion over the novel's betrayal and their personal betrayal; neither will warn Michael and Letty. Margaret REALIZES that she's Letty's enemy and we know she isn't going to stop her betrayals.
Four turning points in this section of Vanity for the four main characters.
Using bits of real people in novel writing are the norm yet authors do tend to squirm a bit over this practice. What is different between such authorial borrowings and Margaret's use of Letty's character and life is that she uses Letty 'whole-cloth' rather than just some bits or merging different people with additional inventions. Margaret is unable to imagine new traits that would create an entirely original character. This isn't acceptable writing; it isn't ethical; it isn't fiction. Margaret even uses Letty's mention of 'Lexie' for the name of her main character.
Margaret's greatest betrayal is her suggesting further disastrous actions for Letty in order to get a better story for her novel. Margaret, once again, cannot imagine situations and has to copy from reality so she encourages Letty to take steps that Margaret knows are unwise and potentially quite harmful.
Hi Christina! Thanks for answering my question about the two-halves of Margaret and Letty. I look forward to reviewing the last 70 posts and picking up on people's insights into this incredible book!
I like the comparison, GINNY, of Margaret to Stevens of Remains of the Day although she does accept responsibility. I also agree that she's in incubation. I don't think Letty/Letitia has changed; just my perception of her changed when first looking through Margaret's eyes and then my perception through the final letters.
Letitia's mad, she's furious, she's looking to others to blame for her destructive behavior. She never exhibited that much caring for Margaret in the first place, why would she with Peggy?
I felt sick to my stomach with Letitia storing Margaret's 'redemption' checks in her yellow accordian file. To me it signaled a triumph for Letitia who still sees money as power. It isn't that she values Margaret but that she can wield power over Margaret by not forgiving. To redeem the 'redemption' checks would be an act of forgiveness and Letitia hasn't enough kindness or big-heartedness for that. Some otherwise good people are like that.
I think the ultimate betrayal here is self-betrayal.
Margaret's self-betrayal was in not trusting herself enough to go through with writing her book and instead she fell to the easy temptation of stealing Letty's life and suggesting dangerous courses of action to Letty to further along the plot. Letitia thought to buy respect and power with money she didn't have and her self-betrayal is that she uses money still as respect/power (the redemption checks in the yellow file are an ominous sign of her future). She thus is able to blame Margaret for Letty's own failure -- no growth there and certainly a serious betrayal of self.
I think Letitia can't forgive Margaret, not for stealing her life, but for the failure to make money out of it and sending the promised money on to her. Money to Letitia is still the ultimate gauge of success, not if someone writes about you and exposes your overspending. Actually, I kinda think being portrayed nationally, even if fictionally, as a free-spender would appeal to Letitia.
Betty said in an earlier post that "unless our heart is in what we're doing, unless we're engaged in the journey/process, our dreams for achievement are...."
I'd say "our dreams are hollow." I can see Margaret/Peggy accepting responsibility and in incubation (to what next?) but Letitia is basically unchanged.
Love the kind of novel where the characters have a life of their own which continues, in the readers' minds, beyond the pages of the book!
I keep the checks, along with her Christmas card, in a small canary yellow accordion file. They are a tie to her, however tenuous, and so I cannot bear to cash them.
Margaret makes a point of apologizing for her very lengthy testimony. From her own mouth we learn that her testimony dwelt lovingly on HER emotions, HER guilts, HER intentions and HER actions. Goodness
Letitica's letter lacks the breathless, flowing descriptions of Letty's correspondence.
GINNY, no, I don't agree that the Biblical quotation regarding vanity means 'the futility of trying to be somebody you are not.' I think that would be one of the possible RESPONSES to the Biblical Vanity which is that material life is temporal and, therefore, you should consider and pay attention to what is truly worthwhile. (This interpretation is rather primitive and I hope someone offers a better and/or different one.) The idea that life is temporary can be unsettling. What's the use if nothing is permanent. Why bother? Good grief, much of Buddhist and Indian philosophy is wrapped around that concept of temporal life. But it didn't stop Gandhi from trying to improve himself so my RESPONSE to the Biblical Vanity is to take what time I have and try to be at my best, to learn and to grow and do my best and in the doing to enjoy. It's through this temporal life that we prepare ourselves for Heaven/Nirvana and in this preparation we make the temporal world a better place in the meantime. I have an alcoholic acquaintance (we seem to have delved into this a lot here) but she believes 'this happened to me, this person did that to me, and I'm a poor weak woman and that's why I drink.' She claims she's a recovering alcoholic but she goes on periodic binges. I used to try to help (doormat/counsellor) but learned that I can't accept her responsibility. She believes it is futile to try to be somebody she's not, that's her alibi for giving in to drink and avoiding responsibility for herself. That 'why bother?' is her RESPONSE, I believe, to Biblical Vanity. _________________________ RE TED'S SILENT COLLUSION Ginny asks if I'm saying that he knew the novel was about Letty. Yes, and I pointed all that out in post 328. Briefly, Ted knew at the time of Margaret's concern about Letty/Michael's too-expensive housebuying (page 225); Ted knew of Letty's email-cry-for-help over debts (page 301); Ted read all about these specific situations in the novel in progress yet he keeps up the myth of the fictional 'these people' (313) and he doesn't warn the real Letty/Michael. Please see post 328 Ginny for a better thought out and more detailed post on this subject. _________________________ That said, I have a question for Christina: Marvelle
The idea that life is temporary can be unsettling. What's the use if nothing is permanent. Why bother? Good grief, much of Buddhist and Indian philosophy is wrapped around that concept of temporal life. But it didn't stop Gandhi from trying to improve himself so my RESPONSE to the Biblical Vanity is to take what time I have and try to be at my best, to learn and to grow and do my best and in the doing to enjoy. It's through this temporal life that we prepare ourselves for Heaven/Nirvana and in this preparation we make the temporal world a better place in the meantime.
I have an alcoholic acquaintance (we seem to have delved into this a lot here) but she believes 'this happened to me, this person did that to me, and I'm a poor weak woman and that's why I drink.' She claims she's a recovering alcoholic but she goes on periodic binges. I used to try to help (doormat/counsellor) but learned that I can't accept her responsibility. She believes it is futile to try to be somebody she's not, that's her alibi for giving in to drink and avoiding responsibility for herself. That 'why bother?' is her RESPONSE, I believe, to Biblical Vanity.
RE TED'S SILENT COLLUSION
Ginny asks if I'm saying that he knew the novel was about Letty. Yes, and I pointed all that out in post 328.
Briefly, Ted knew at the time of Margaret's concern about Letty/Michael's too-expensive housebuying (page 225); Ted knew of Letty's email-cry-for-help over debts (page 301); Ted read all about these specific situations in the novel in progress yet he keeps up the myth of the fictional 'these people' (313) and he doesn't warn the real Letty/Michael.
Please see post 328 Ginny for a better thought out and more detailed post on this subject.
That said, I have a question for Christina:
This discussion's fun and interesting and rewarding. GINNY's boundless enthusiasm and her prodding got us to think deeper and deeper into the text. (Where do you find those questions, GINNY?) And wouldn't you know that SHE would find a way to mention Stevens of Remains of the Day? Kidding, kidding Ginny, it's one of my favorite books; a real stunner like Vanity.
It's been a joy participating from the start. How rare an experience it's been: a fine book like Vanity in hand AND CHRISTINA's generous participation.
CHRISTINA, it was a pure gift to learn from you about the epistolary research and process, the writerly hints, and the revelations about characters and incidents having their own life. I don't know how you managed to find the time to join in this discussion with a new baby (as opposed to old baby?) but I'm happy you agreed to join. Thank you.
Hopefully, we'll have some time yet to 'wrap things up' -- whatever that wrapping might entail. I just wanted to thank Ginny, Christina, and the awesome SN fellow-posters now, before time slips away.
A few weeks ago I began reading a mystery about a creative writing teacher in an inner-city school. He hands out books to his 9th-graders and says the words below. I think they are appro pos to my feelings about All is Vanity, even though most of us did not claim to identify with either M or L. (Perhaps deep down, we do, a little bit.)
" . . .what we really get out of the good books we read is self-recognition. We read and discover stuff about life that we already knew, except that we didn't KNOW we knew it until we read it in a particular book. And this self-recognition, this discovering ourselves in the writing of others can be very exciting, can make us feel a little less isolated inside our own thing and a little more connected to the larger world."
This afternoon I watched Oprah, something I rarely do, but I couldn't find Jeparody, and I had to ice my knee. There were two women there who fit the W.D. Howells quote about having and shining, and also Bobbie's words about External Referencing. One was the mother of two pre-schoolers who was doing and doing for her children, so that she didn't have time to really enjoy them. She spent much time ironing their clothes because their attire would reflect well on her. The other, a single mom in a management position, couldn't say no, couldn't turn any one down, first in the office, last out. Even helped her secretary with her work. This made people notice her -- her friends even gave her a party for helping so much. Her way to shine. My first thoughts were, "ah, Letty," but now I think they were Margaret.
A few thoughts on forgiveness. I think Margaret is beginning to forgive herself, owning up to her betrayals, espousing content to be a dull penny. Letty won't show forgiveness until she cashes the checks. She says they're a tie to Margaret, but actually they are keeping Margaret tied. In not forgiving Margaret, Letty is carrying the greater burden. Hopefully she will change.
MalrynRe your posts 413 and #? comparing Margaret's attempt at amends to the AA 12-step program. I wanted to comment the other night, but did not want to stop reading posts. Even though you have changed your mind, I thought it was a good analogy. After all, doesn't Bloom put application at the peak of the learning pyramid?
And so, Christina, the next time I run into Letty or Margaret, you can be sure I will be thinking of Christina Schwarz' All is Vanity.
*One of you noted..."More and more I think that Margaret and Letty are habits more than they are friends." Yeah, habits... or sisters.
Betty said..."My experience of being a "best friend" and having a "best friend" has always included saying things difficult to say and hearing things difficult to hear" Yes, that's what I think a friend should do/be too, Betty, but this relationship seems different to me. These two did not choose one another to be "best friends" and confidantes; they were thrown together...like sisters. Sometimes they pay attention to one another, sometimes they want their privacy... * One of you said..." these two adult women are not really friends any more. They use each other as self-seeking sounding boards and stimuli." Sisters do that kind of thing...
Ginny asked, "Would it surprise you to learn I feel nobody’s particularly at fault here?" To a point, I don't either, Ginny. I think that they were both blinded by their own ambitions, desires, agendas to notice where their Vanity was leading them. I guess that's my plain and simple definition of "Vanity" ... a form of selfish conceit that it is all about oneself. To me, the turning point centered again on the yellow accordion folder...funny how many times that object has turned up in your posts!
Letty makes the phone call...NOT an email message to print out and read. This is serious. Letty is desparate now. No pretenses. No vanity this time. She appeals directly to Margaret for help. If Margaret had been all-absorbed in her novel to the point that she had forgotten the flesh and blood character of her life-long friend, the sound of her voice on the phone should wake her up to reality. Everything was riding on Margaret's response, as far as I was concerned:"I kept dropping them,(the bills) in there (the file). It's like they're self-generating. I'm afraid to keep opening boxes. There might be more."This is where I lost all hope for Margaret...What would it take for her to trash this novel and see what her "Vanity" would not let her see?
"Where are they in the address book?", I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Which letter are they under?"
They aren't under any letter. They were inside the front cover. What difference does it make?"
"I was wondering if you'd put them under "B" for bills." Was I fishing for details, trying t find out how to write the scene in which Lexie discoverd her misplaced and forgotten bills so that it would read as if it were truly happening?" p. 267
Christina, you have written an extremely powerful story with a believable ending. I can't remember why the two would be writing letters to the Judge, but things do "work"- Margaret is clueless as to how to make things up to Letty. I believe she thinks she is doing something to atone. (Can any of you suggest another way she might have done so?) She watches people sleep now, as she did not really look at Letty when she needed her. She sends checks...is it every week? Month? - Just to let Letty know she is thinking of her all the time. Letty says she's not cashing the checks because she needs that connection with Margaret...er, Betty. I think I believe her. I think using the name "Betty" is another form of atonement...and agree with those of you who characterize it as yet another "hairshirt"...a constant reminder.
Have either of them really changed? Hmmm...does anyone ever get over the need to "shine"? Is shining, even one little flickering candle evidence that one is living and breathing and in need of some sort of recognition or pat on the back? I agree, they are young, they are still in the aftermath of the explosion that rocked their lives. They are trying to pick up the pieces and continue life. Margaret is trying to atone...and in her own way, to change. At least for the time being, the need to shine seems muffled. How long can she go on like this?
Letty seems to have the simple life she's always wanted and Michael has stuck by her. I don't think she ever needed to shine except to to do her own thing without Margaret's guidance/interference. She seems to be doing that now, though she keeps those checks as a reminder of Margaret. I wish she wouldn't do that. To me, the checks are assurance that Margaret is still there, and all she has to do is call one day. That might happen again at some point.
Thank you all for providing so many different interpretations and points to consider. I only wish I had been here to talk them out with you more! Next time! Christina, we will be watching for your next novel...and Ginny, you are the best!
ps. The french doors will be added later - will lead out to the patio once the patio is built...
She watches people sleep now, as she did not really look at Letty when she needed her!Contrapasso, Joan? And another great question: does anyone ever get over the need to “shine?”
I believe Margaret testified partly out of love for Letty and partly to expiate her own guilt...for REDEMPTION?...but instead Letty must have heard the selfishness, the
By maintaining her anger at Margaret, Letty is able to avoid accepting full responsibility for herself; she can sidestep that issue through anger. She keeps the checks/money as a sign of power, this ability to give or withhold forgiveness. Until Letty learns to accept responsibility for herself she'll be only too ready to blame others. And Margaret made herself the star of the show in court! Took away the spotlight from Letty. Unforgivable to Letty?
Of course Margaret hurt Letty; she wronged her. Good grief, she stole her life so there is something serious to forgive. I don't know if Letty will eventually forgive but her anger damages herself most of all. Margaret is only too ready to blame herself, mea culpa, mea culpa pounding her chest. I think, however, that Margaret is sorry and Letty knows that but Margaret is making a fuss over herself and the redemption checks.
I would think each woman needs to face their failings; redemption comes from God and if you don't believe in God then perhaps it comes from within the person. Letty AND Margaret both believe, incorrectly IMO, that redemption is in Letty's hands. Perhaps Margaret has changed a little bit for the better? Letty, holding onto that anger, I'm not so sure.
I can and have forgiven my alcoholic acquaintance for her using behavior toward me; I'm not angry since that's such a wasteful, demeaning emotion; but I'm cautious now and cannot trust her so wholeheartedly as I once had done. Something was lost in our relationship; as I think something will always be lost with Letty and Margaret even if the friendship is ever repaired at some level.
Oh yes! I'd love to see a movie Vanity! Calista Flockhart as Letty? Who would be our Margaret? Actresses who can play 30-something. . . .
What you say in post 468 is eerily reflective of what I went through with my friend. I felt betrayed by her lies and manipulative behavior and the trust I'd given her as a close friend is now not the same. She still binge drinks.
This betrayal could be stealing a life as Margaret did in her writing due to M's lack of creative imagination, borrowing money without intending to pay back, badmouthing you at work to destroy your chances at promotion etc etc. So many ways to betray and each as bad as the other as far as the hurt goes.
It hurts, this betrayal by someone you've felt close to, to whom you've opened up and trusted. If your trust is betrayed, you may forgive, depending on your nature, but most people are cautious about whole-heartedly trusting again. Letty hasn't forgiven and is using her anger as an alibi for 'power payback' and her own bad behavior. That's what I see with the unredeemed checks.
Letty is far away from forgiving (that anger!), which isn't good for her personally, so trusting and moving forward with her life isn't yet an issue.
I could see Nicole Kidman as Margaret if she'd be willing to be vulnerable and likable but also at times unlikable. Is she good at humor?
From 16: "Parable: a simple story that teaches a lesson or illustrates a moral principle. Like an allegory, details of a parable parallel the details of the situation calling for illustration." Is Vanity a parable? If so, what is the lesson learned here? What is being illustrated?
"That in her mind she will always be Robinson Crusoe and I will always be Friday, I can forgive. . . . But that she cared for the world's regard more than she cared for me, how can I forgive that?"Is this what you consider her anger? If so, why does she say at the end of this letter:
"I keep the checks, along with her Christmas card, in a small canary yellow accordian file. They are a tie to her, however tenuous, and so I cannot bear to cash them."This doesn't sound like anger and a power play to me. It sounds like deep hurt and loss.
I bet we can find lots of parables that fit Vanity. The Parable of American Consumerism, as Frugal mentioned, is certainly an important one. Oh my, I haven't much money and what I have goes to second-hand books and now, anytime I think of buying a book, Letty pops up before my eyes! Scary. Shivers and second-thoughts.
Here's another parable I think may fit (which also includes Bobbie's external referencing & the need for material goods):
Parables are moral lessons; a guide to how to live your life as we see in Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe etc., as well as in Jesus' sayings.
The Sower's parable suggests that human nature has different asect and different levels of consciousness, rather like Maslow's interpretation of the different stages of consciousness. (One can substitute various theories on the levels of human consciousness for this parable.) The seed represents the Word as knowledge/enlightenment.
I think the lesson of the parable as applied to Vanity would be to find what we value and to understand where we are in our stage of development/consciousness, and to reach upward from there.
Christina, can you help with the message of Vanity? It doesn't matter if I made an 'incorrect' interpretation or made it bigger than it actually is; I enjoy the search and the learning while I do so. But I would love to hear the intended message and/or lesson of Vanity.
Thanks Ginny for bringing this book to us and for being our leader
Thanks again Christina for being with us and sharing with us the insights that only you could bring us
Thanks to all of you who bit the bullet and shared your thoughts and opened yourselves up to the rest of us. You made this discussion.
Thanks Cliff and Emily for giving me "Vanity" for my birthday.
We hate to see a good discussion come to an end, but there is still much pleasure to come as we share our experiences here and what we have learned with others who were not with us. Pass it on!
I think Letty blames Margaret, who did wrong, and it's easy therefore to blame her. That way Letty avoids responsibility for her own actions. Thinking about this, Letty may have boxed herself into remaining the same person without development. Maybe it just isn't time yet for Letty to pass through the stage of 'goods as success.' Joan, I guess Letty would be in the Den of Thieves in Hell. Hats just reminded us that she DID steal money.
Hats, it is nice to think that sometime in the future, wounds will heal and M&L can be friends again. Hopefully, when Letty is ready to forgive Margaret, Margaret will forgive Letty for her indifferent-to-Margaret behavior throughout the episodes of Vanity right to the very end.
Like Ginny said, wouldn't it be something to see these two 20 years from now? As if these two were REAL. They certainly seem real.
My next book? I'm still in Dante's Hell hoping our guides Joan P. and Maryal won't leave me behind. It gets hot here, you know? Not my kind of weather but a very enlightening, intriguing discussion of a beautiful work. Maybe your new book will be off the press by the time, if ever, I emerge from Hell. If not, I may have to resort to cleaning my house! Oh, the horror.
Vanity is like Remains in that there are so many different ways to look at it because of our varying experiences and background. I think a good work, like a poem, can't be tied to one SPECIFIC meaning which alone is TRUE or that all else is dross. So I understand that 'meaning' should be left to the individual reader.
I hate to see this discussion end as it's been superlative with our guides Christina and Ginny leading us along. SN companions, it's been a joy.
It's funny how, just as there was with Stevens in Remains, there are different responses to Letty and Margaret. 'Letty is holding on to the checks for friendship' versus '..out of anger'; 'Letty will forgive' versus 'Letty isn't near to forgiving'; 'Margaret may forgive Letty for her neglect' versus 'Margaret has nothing to forgive' etc. I wonder if it's the Lettys amongst us (myself) who're hardest on her and the Margarets who're hardest on her?
If I read a book and I think it's poorly written or badly plotted I wouldn't join in a discussion were the author is a guest participant. I wouldn't want to say to their cyber face, you're a bad writer. But if a fine author has a slant or viewpoint that I question, I think that's a suitable issue to discuss. Of course, I'm a poet first and foremost, and poets are anarchists who love to get people to REACT rather than have people intellectually, passively, nod their heads. Good novelists are the same, I think, and they love seeing issues discussed and debated.
Words live, they aren't just flat marks on paper. Words only die when people don't interact with them.
About the portrayal of women in Vanity: People are not one way or the other -- either 'good' or 'with faults' -- regular people aren't either/or like that. We're both. Particularly in a novel, if you have a character without faults you don't have much of a character, instead you have a caricature that's flat and one-dimensional. S/he isn't real.
So here is where I disagree with you. In fiction/novels, and I'm not talking about the disposable dime-a-dozen stuff, men and women will have faults and they'll be tested. That's the story. Period. How people face the test and whether they change or not is the pivotal point in a novel. In Vanity, of the two women, I think one person changed [at least a little] and another did not.
If a literate author does her job, readers will see some part of themselves in the story and will experience the test along with the characters; or readers will relate to the test itself, having experienced it or seen it in others. It isn't about "let's dump on women" but "let's see what we encounter in the world."
Thomas Wolfe wrote on the same subject of "to have and to shine," other male authors too about male characters; but life isn't exclusively male. (thank goodness!) If you don't see that Vanity was an exploration of how society influences us, shapes and mishapes us, and tries us, then I don't know how to show you. I feel Christina, being a woman, knew women best and so that's who she wrote about.
Author's always always always write faults into their male and female characters unless it's poorly written fiction. King Lear would not be as magnificent as he is if he hadn't those faults that brought him such despair and agony. Huckleberry Finn would not be as radiant and memorable a character if he hadn't the flaw of prejudice which brought him such agonies of conscience until he faced it on that Mississippi river raft. He was tested and he changed and acted on his conscience. The odyessy of Huck is to find himself. We empathize with Lear and Huck as they struggle with the Human Condition and their faults. The test and the response is a catharsis for the reader if done well.
It'd be a poor world indeed if authors were only allowed to write about men. I don't demand that women be plaster saints. I personally felt that Margaret underwent a lot of emotional agony FOR us and Letty in the end underwent a more physical agony FOR us.
Betty, I for one, would love to have seen your point of view as we examined Vanity. It would have added another diminsion to the discussion and, as your posts indicate, you always discuss intelligently, and with courtesy and respect. So long as we addressed an author with consideration, we couldn't lose. I think just saying "the portrayal of women here is demeening" alone wouldn't be gracious; but questioning, exploring the portrayal would be suitable. We could have talked about women, the perception of women, literary techniques, the structure and aspects of novels, society and its restraints and influences.... so much comes to mind brought about by thinking about this.
See Bety, wouldn't this have made a great topic in the discussion?
I don't know how to express the idea clearly that today's literature is not about perfect men and women. Such perfect people would be caricatures, flat and uninteresting. They wouldn't represent the Human Condition.
Much of the literature of the past has a leading man. If a woman is in the book at all she's either a Saint or a Sinner (either/or) and she lurks in the background. In the past many Male authors argued that women weren't interesting, they had narrow provincial lives (the lack of war experience always being pointed out), and women had nothing to contribute in an exploration of humanity blah blah blah ... so the male writers and their male editors said. There were rare exceptions like Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Very rare compared to the proliferation of male authors with a male-centered viewpoint. Contemporary literature has changed that viewpoint, thank goodness
But a major character in contemporary lit has to have flaws; has to explore the Human Condition. That's a fact of literature.
Is the answer to NOT write about women? To exclude women? Good grief, no!
And just as M&L have faults as major characters, I also pointed out in some posts the faults of Michael and Ted. No one followed up on my thoughts perhaps because they weren't major characters. But they had critical faults.
If I want to escape the human condition, if I don't want to read about issues, I turn to other forms of writing. One can find perfect major characters, without critical, pivotal flaws in autobiographies, biographies, science books, romance, mysteries. There will be flaws, often but not always, yet the flaws don't determine the climax (if any) of most of these stories because they aren't about the Human Condition.
For instance, in mysteries, which I love, the interest is in plot and setting and the puzzle. It keeps my mind occupied but not searching the human condition. Continuing characters in a mystery series will have certain recognizable mannerisms, a history often shady, but rarely (Inspector Morse is a rare example) will they have major faults. And those faults are not the pivotal, deciding point of a mystery; it is the puzzle itself that leads the story. It's more about the joy of setting, plot and puzzle and the comfy feeling I get encountering a character I know from past mysteries. Contemporary lit, without the mystery puzzle and comfy recognition, doesn't have any such substitution for fully-dimensional characters.
Contemporary lit's major characters have flaws that echo society's flaws. Devious, manipulative, disloyal, stereotypes as representative of society, arrogant?
Devious, manipulative, disloyal, sterotypes of society, arrogant -- these flaws are not restricted to women but to human beings.
Carolyn, I disagree about women being (naturally?) devious. If one is raised feeling powerless in a society that extolls power (money, name, pulling political economic social strings), to become a part of that distorted society one may choose the 'power' route and be devious. We see it commonly in politicians and stock traders where deviousness and manipulation is a game. They crave the high of power/esteem, yet it is only a temporary fix. Sad that so many men and women fall for that social trap!
I don't see Christina as having a gender bias. She's talking about the values we see all around us in society. Oh how I wish we could talk more about these issues but I know the Vanity discussion is ending. It would have been WONDERFUL to have time to explore issues of perceptions of women by/in society, literary techniques and characterizations, the structure of lit novels. Perhaps we'll find another novel that'll raise such issues and then we'll explore them together.
Time has ended here for this fascinating topic and I wish we had more time.
Carolyn, we were posting at the same time. Abortion is another volatile issue isn't it? I shudder to think of future genetics and what practices and controversy that may bring. All important human issues but which directly impact women.