Places: The Late George Apley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1937

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Naturalism

Time of work: Late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Boston

*Boston. Late George Apley, TheMassachusetts city in which the Apley family has lived since the seventeenth century. The novel’s title character, George Apley, is born in his grandfather’s house on Beacon Hill in 1866 and dies in his own Beacon Street house in 1933. Except for a few trips to Europe and occasional sojourns to New York City, he rarely leaves New England during his nearly seventy years. His life is characterized by an adherence to a worldview espoused by his peers, the rarified few with Puritan forebears and inherited wealth, sometimes referred to as Boston Brahmins. These self-styled patricians inhabit a world of strictly structured social etiquette, private schools, men’s clubs with severely restricted membership, and a dogmatic devotion to tradition. This small minority of the city’s population believe themselves to be the social arbiters of the country. Despite their commitment to financial generosity to pet charities, they shield themselves from those outside their narrowly confined world, especially their immigrant neighbors. George Apley and his neighbors and friends are, because of their mind-set, as parochial and restricted by their outlook as anyone in a small village or town.

*Beacon Hill

*Beacon Hill. Residential enclave in Boston that is synonymous with wealth and privilege. This neighborhood, which is characterized by an abundance of Charles Bulfinch-designed federal style residences, is the primary home of George Apley and most of his friends and colleagues. Although it is close to the Boston Common, the Public Gardens, and the immigrant neighborhoods just over the crest of the hill, it stands socially aloof from the rest of Boston during the period in which this novel is set.

*Harvard University

*Harvard University. Founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636, Harvard is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States. It serves, in the novel as a microcosm of Boston elitism and is the only college Apley and his peers consider worthy of attending. Students in his day are quickly funneled into its strict social hierarchy, epitomized in its club system. Membership in the right club is more important to these Bostonians than even academic achievement.

Pequod Island

Pequod Island. Fictional Maine island owned by Apley that could be any one of several small islands located off Maine’s coast. For Apley, who buys and furnishes this private island as a vacation retreat, it is a means of escape that is acceptable to his Boston peers. Life on the island is relatively rustic and simple–despite the presence of servants like the local young women hired each season to serve as waitresses in the dining hall. Routines on the island are, nevertheless, nearly as structured as those in the city. From the rising bell at 6:30 a.m. to the formal evening reports of the day’s activities, summer islanders are ruled by their Bostonian loyalty to structure.

*New York City

*New York City. Great metropolitan center about 175 miles southwest of Boston that functions, in its role as a modern cosmopolitan city, as a foil to the manners and mores of Boston. In a letter to his wife, Apley claims that Bostonians in New York seem like strangers in a foreign city. When he and his Boston neighbors visit New York, they always stay in the same hotel, thus assuring themselves of congenial and like-minded company who can shield them from the excesses and familiarity of non-New Englanders.

BibliographyBell, Millicent. Marquand: An American Life. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979. Analyzes The Late George Apley as an accurate depiction and study of the Bostonian world its author loved and resented. Summarizes the mainly hostile reviews in Boston periodicals.Gross, John J. John P. Marquand. New York: Twayne, 1963. Sees the novel as concerned with the increasing atomization of contemporary society and as depicting old New England values, including frugality and charity, taken too far. Commends Marquand for having an insensitive narrator.Kazin, Alfred. “John P. Marquand and the American Failure.” Atlantic Monthly 202 (November, 1958): 152-154, 156. Sees Marquand, a genteel satirist, ideally positioned in The Late George Apley as an observer. Regards Apley’s abandoning his Irish girlfriend as representing the dilemma of many Americans–wishing to defy conventions but finding it difficult to do.Marquand, John P. “Apley, Wickford Point, and Pulham: My Early Struggles.” Atlantic Monthly 198 (September, 1956): 71-74. Comments on his decision to parody the epistolary novel by having a preposterous, pompous, obtuse, conceited biographer as narrator.Tuttleton, James W. The Novel of Manners in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972. Shows in a thumbnail biography of Marquand the importance of social influences on his writings. Sees The Late George Apley as an exposure of the Boston Brahman caste system and the tragedy of its perpetuation.
Categories: Places