In today’s episode of “how many blog posts can you milk from one idea” we again approach my book club meeting/discussion of “Portrait of a Lady” by “Henry James…
So we’re at my Tea book club. This particular book club is sponsored by my tea society. We meet in a local Barnes and Noble, drink tea (usually Harney) and discuss a book that somehow talks about tea. The iconic first line of PoaL is “Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” But never fear, today we will not be dissecting this quote…we’ll leave that to another blog…
But anyway. Sorry- there might be some spoilers if you’ve never read the book and have 6 or so months to put into reading it.
Gilbert Osmond is kind of a tool. Most people (including the majority of my book club) despise this character. He is deceptive, self righteous and hypocritical. Most doubt that he actually loves Isabel Archer; many feel he has married her for her money.
So the book club was going on and on about how much we hate this character. And began pointing out why we didn’t think he loved Isabel. We talked about her other suitors, why we preferred them to Osmond. We sported evidence: we had quotes and instances that backed up our hatred of Osmond. The overall feeling was that he didn’t love Isabel because he couldn’t tolerate who she was at her core- he didn’t love her for who she was. he loved the idea of her, but not actually her.
Everyone agreed. Well, almost everyone. One member. we’ll call her A, was adamant that Osmond did indeed love Isabel. It didn’t matter that he didn’t like most of Isabel’s characteristics. It didn’t matter that he actively tried to change her. A could not be persuaded otherwise: she firmly believed that Osmond truly loved Isabel.
Why was she so adamant?
Because her boyfriend of 10 years didn’t like any of her individual characteristics, yet he still loved her. He was always trying to change her behaviors and the things that she did. Yet he loved her.
So, what do you do when a group of people have discussed the reasons why they hate a character, and those very reasons mirror a real life situation involving a person sitting at the table?
You sort of look at one another, shift your butt in your seat, get up to make more tea…anything to give a little distance to the situation. Anything to give you a natural moment to change the topic.
But who am I kidding? There is no good way to change a topic when someone says their boyfriend reminds them of a really despicable character in literature. You just sit there, wishing that you could grab HG Wells and just go back 30 minutes in time so you can say how great a husband Osmond was, how he deserves to be husband of the year.
But, HG forgot to leave us his time machine, so you just sit there and talk about what is was like to serialize a novel and get paid by the word. Because that’s safe. (though I was preying her job didn’t include getting paid by the word…)
So what’s the best thing to do when you have unknowingly insulted someone’s partner, relationship and life status?
I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. I got through the rest of book club, but I have to see her again next month. I still feel weird. I’m going to be quiet in book club (ok- there’s no way I’m going to be quiet in book club, but you get the idea) And I know we ALL talked about how much we hated Osmond, and I’m guessing everyone will be just as uncomfortable…but really….
I have to power through “Age of Innocence” again, so I can look for potential pitfalls…