Aside from slogging my way through various gaming manuals at present, I’ve been idly browsing my Norton Anthology of American Literature, which seemed like a fairly worthless activity at first, but which is bearing some interesting fruit.
I think that in comparison to the Norton Anthology of English Literature there’s a lot more slightly offbeat stuff, and a bit less romanticism. Based on a couple of hours of idle skimming, I’m prepared to say that with certainty, the Americans have wider and more piercing eyes.
One little gem I found was The Rich Boy by F Scott Fitzgerald. I’m sure everyone reading this has read The Great Gatsby – one of the greatest novels written by an American in the 1920s about indolence and indifference. 😉 It was a favourite theme of his, forming the essential character of everything I’ve ever read by him.
What I love about these stories is that they’re capable of observing the essential corruption and decadence of the rich with at once a great pity for their follies and a great wistful longing to be one of them. Fitzgerald is at his best when exploiting that dualism, and Gatsby is greatest of all because of his tragically flawed metamorphosis.
The Rich Boy is in comparison a minor work, but the narrator has a much sharper eye for the distinction of true New England Blue Blood, and makes a far more incisive comment on them. Perhaps nothing in the short story is quite as perceptive as the opening explanation that the only way to discuss and think about those born into wealth is to think about them as a foreign race, alike in appearance, but alien in character. The rich, in effect, aught to be discussed as you’d talk about the French or Mongol.
There is beauty and elegance in the simplicity of his construction, and the clarity of both his vision and his expression of that vision. Unadorned, plain-speaking, clear-eyed.