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…

 

 

 

 

36 thoughts on “And A Hush Goes Over the Room

  1. Maybe you all did her a favor? Perhaps the insistence of so many will give her pause when she is alone to reflect on reality… or perhaps that meeting was the last you will see of A.
    Isn’t there a saying about “Fiction mirroring life” or something along those lines?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true. That’s my whole problem when someone reviews something and says it’s not believable….isn’t anything possible? I hope she shows up…she’s really smart and really nice…but yeah…I’ve wondered that as well…

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  2. My husband tried to change me. I never saw the point in that. People change people then find they don’t like the change. What is the point.

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  3. Maybe Osmond loved Isabel in his own way. Need can be love. Ego can be love. “A” may love “B” and “B” may love “A”, but love is different for everyone, and maybe “B’s” way of love reflects his own history of love. Which may be zero.. Ego is a strange beast to tether. Maybe “A” takes the love of”B” any way she can get it. And defending”B” sort of love validates her own love.

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  4. I wouldn’t have stayed quiet but I’m a shit disturber. I think it was a great opportunity for her to learn from previous mistakes and would have flown with it. Or more treaded gently perhaps. I would have asked why she thought the man loved her and what actions the character has done to make her think that he loves the female character as well. I would have brought it about to a discussion of what love is. Granted that discussion could take hours of drinking tea but while it’s complex, there are basics :). And yes, fiction mirroring life.
    But good for you guys playing nice, I need to learn to do that more and shut my mouth.

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  5. Here’s the thing – you were talking about a book character – not her significant other. If she wants to draw that parallel, that’s up to her. If you compartmentalise it, the problem goes away. If she gets butt-hurt talking about the book character, again – her problem.

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    1. Rationally I totally agree with her. But it was if as she was saying it the lightbulb was going off in her head. It was like she didn’t realize her situation till we were talking about it. And I just kep pushing my POV…I mean…I really despise Osmond as a character and I wasn’t holding back!!

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  6. I think one of the challenges of interacting with others is remembering to assume their good intent, even if what they say may come out in a way that sounds offensive or impertinent. Very few of us are deliberately unpleasant—often it’s more a matter of being unaware or awkward. We often ascribe malice to others when this happens . . . but, of course, we give ourselves a pass! Hopefully, your book buddy realizes that no one was deliberately criticizing her or her relationship. All you can do is the best you can do.

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    1. I think she understood that we weren’t being cruel…but we felt like we were opening her eyes to something for the first time. It was so awkward!

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  7. Hmm … it was probably good for her to hear it, especially since she must have realized you all did not know her situation before you expressed your opinions … maybe she won’t come next month …

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  8. Hmmm… I didn’t see this one coming. I thought you were going to say that one member simply disagreed with the rest of the group, and I was going to say that was just fine. (A few members of my own book club tend to treat discussions as debates, but I honestly think people are allowed to have different opinions of the same books, characters and themes.)
    But how you handle it when someone says they disagree because their significant other is just like the character everyone can’t stand, then darn… that is tough! Maybe time for more tea? And I guess all you can do is hope that maybe what everyone said will make her think a bit harder on whether she really needs this person in her life. Although, sadly, I doubt it.

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    1. We could see her want to almost take back her words as she said it. The hard part is, we only know each other through this club, and we usually only talk tea and literature, so you don’t really know what’s a hot button or odd topic. And it’s just awkward, because we know we didn’t do anything wrong, but it was a weird spot to be in

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  9. I think I would just move on at the next meeting. If she wants to bring it up again, OK. But if not, move on. We all do this type of thing from time to time, and as long as it’s done without malice, I don’t think anyone can really be too offended.

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  10. You have to hope that your friend understands no criticism was implied about her, after all she didn’t really bring it up until afterwards. Hopefully though, there will be some pause for thought as she re-assesses her relationship and decides she quite happy with who she was when she met this boyfriend and he should have been happy too.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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