Amory Blaine is the son of Beatrice and Stephen Blaine. His father has grown wealthy by the death of his two brothers who were successful brokers in Chicago. Amory’s mother is a beautiful, rich and well educated woman who has married Stephen Blaine in one of “her less important moments” (p. 4) and given birth to Amory in spring of 1896. When Amory is four years old, he and his mother travel the U.S. for six years, even though they own a big estate at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Staying at various places, Beatrice and diverse tutors teach him all the things well-educated people have to know at that time.
When he is thirteen years old, Beatrice has a nervous breakdown and Amory from now on lives with his aunt and uncle in Minneapolis. He has problems to adjust to normal school, as he feels far superior to the other boys there.
A girl, Myra St. Claire, invites him to a bobbing party after two months. As he purposely arrives half an hour late at Myra’s house, the party has already gone for a club and Myra is angry. They follow the party and get to the Club before the others. There, in front of the fireplace, Amory uses all his charm in order to attract her and even kisses her just before the party arrives.
During the two years in Minneapolis, he reads a lot and forms a picture of himself: He is “a fortunate youth, capable of infinite expansion for good or evil.” (p. 17); he thinks himself handsome, mentally superior, and gifted to dominate all males and to fascinate all women. He returns to his mother at Lake Geneva and asks her to allow him to go away to preparatory school. She agrees to his wish and he leaves for St. Regis’ in Connecticut.
Before school starts, he is to pay a visit to Monsignor Darcy in New York, a former lover of Beatrice who has become a catholic priest. Monsignor and Amory enjoy each others company a lot and Monsignor encourages Amory’s egotism. At St. Regis’, however, he is neither a good student nor very popular.
In the end of his time in prep school, Amory classifies people into “Slickers”, who try to get around as easily as possible and become successful in the future and “Big Men”, who are not as popular, not as successful, but work on everything out of a sense of duty. He counts himself to the second class.
Amory arrives at Princeton in 1914, where he will go to college. There he meets Burne and Kerry Holiday, two brothers and classmates of his, and starts a friendship with them. He writes for the Nassau Literary Magazine and the Daily Princetonian. Although he thinks he was born for higher purposes, he accepts his low rank in the school’s caste-system for now. He soon meets Tom D’Invilliers, another literary in his class and becomes friends with him, even though Tom is quite unpopular. He takes no further interest in the start of the First World War.
In his sophomore year, he plays an important role in the Triangle Club’s Christmas-play. He spends the Christmas-break in Minneapolis to meet Isabelle Borgé, a girl he has known as a child and who is now known to be a beautiful young lady. It is known of her that she has “been kissed” (p. 56), too. Even though Isabelle wonders whether she will enjoy his company, she finds him a very handsome man whom she likes very well, when they meet at a dinner party. When the dance starts after dinner, they leave for the reading-room to have some privacy. They get closer and closer but suddenly are disturbed and their time together is over. Amory has to leave the next day, to the disappointment of both him and Isabelle.
In Princeton, Amory and Tom D’Invilliers have become more famous, as they are on the editorial board of the Daily Princetonian now. Amory is even elected to the sophomore prom committee. He cuts many classes and spends his time drinking and partying. Once he drives to the coast together with Dick Humbird, Kerry Holiday, Alec Connage, Jesse Ferrenby and others. Since they do not have any money, they cheat the waiters and have a great time. On the way back from another party in New York City, Dick Humbird is killed in a car accident.
The next day, Isabelle and her mother visit and they go to the Borgé’s summerhouse on Long Island. Isabelle and Amory seem to be made for each other and are in eternal love.
Isabelle and Amory’s love breaks on Amory’s self-centeredness and he is very depressed. As he fails a math exam, he has to withdraw from the board of editors of the Prince and is mad that his system of having luck in the right moment broke. Also, Amory’s father dies and he gets an insight of the family’s finances, which are going down steadily.
On a visit to Monsignor Darcy, he talks about leaving college because everything is worsening for him, but Monsignor insures him, that this is just a step in his becoming a personage.
On a party in New York, he seems to go crazy and to see the devil who turns out to have the face of Dick Humbird.
Next summer, Princeton is in a transition period: Students are openly discussing the institutions of the college. Burne Holiday leads a revolution in the social system of Princeton by persuading a third of the junior class to resign from their curricular activities. Amory gets to know Burne more closely in various talks. Just as Burne grows more abstract and his prestige on campus falls, Amory admits that “he’s the first contemporary I’ve ever met who [...] is my superior in mental capacity” (p. 121).
Amory pays several visits to Mgr Darcy, once taking Burne with him and Monsignor informs him, that a distant cousin of Amory, Clara Page, widowed and asks him to visit her as she is supposed to be a remarkable woman. Clara makes an immense impression on Amory for she is very intelligent and well educated. He feels an admiration for her that he feels for nobody else, except for Monsignor Darcy. Therefore, he asks her to marry him, but she declines and he leaves her.
Everyone in college is leaving for the war and so is Amory, as it is the “thing to do”.
In a letter, Monsignor Darcy tells Amory, how deep his feelings towards him are. He writes that Amory is like a son to him and that he fears, one of them might not survive the war.
Amory writes a letter to his friend Tom, asking him to come to New York City and to get an apartment together with him and Alec who is with Amory. By now, Beatrice has died. Also, Kerry Holliday and Jesse Ferrenby fell in the war.
Amory is visiting Alec at his parents’ house, while his sister, Rosalind, is having her coming out. Rosalind is beautiful and very “modern”. As Amory happens to walk into her room, they talk and like each other. Within just five minutes, they kiss. Shortly after, though, Rosalind rejects him and Amory leaves the room. Her mother comes in and talks about the rich men Rosalind is supposed to meet at the dance that evening. She especially favors Dawson Ryder over her present acquaintance Howard Gillespie.
At the dance, Rosalind first has a conversation with Gillespie, trying to get rid of him. Then she talks to Amory and they seem very much attracted to each other. They fall in love and have a wonderful time together, while Rosalind’s mother is still trying to persuade her to marry Dawson Ryder instead of being together with Amory who only earns 35 Dollars a week in the advertising business.
Five weeks later, Rosalind informs Amory, that she will marry Dawson because of his money and unhappily asks him to leave.
After this, Amory spends over a week drinking constantly in bars in New York. He quits his job after he has been absent for two days being drunk and beaten up heavily. He continues drinking as a cure, but stops when prohibition starts on July 1, 1919. Instead, he starts to read enormously and picks up writing again. He tries to visit Monsignor Darcy, but as he is not in town, he sees Mrs. Lawrence, a friend of Monsignor. As they talk about him and Monsignor, he feels that there was much left in life and becomes more optimistic about it.
However, he is still bored by his life and talks to Tom about it. He states there was no individualism left in their generation. Tom leaves New York, for his mother is very ill. Monsignor Darcy writes Amory a letter, warning him not to loose his personality. Amory tries to visit him, but misses him again and decides to spend a few days with an uncle in Maryland. There he encounters Eleanor, which extends his stay.
Amory and Eleanor meet on a stormy, dark afternoon on a field where she is lying on a haystack and recites a poem. They spend a lot of time together and talk about many a thing especially their common hobbies, literature and poetry. Jointly, they live trough the “Indian summer of [their] hearts”, as they put it.
One time they are taking a ride and they talk about will. To demonstrate hers, she almost rides over a cliff but can jump off just in time. After that, Eleanor talks haltingly about herself. Amory’s love for her vanishes and he leaves her.
On his way back to New York, Amory unexpectedly meets Alec and some friends in Atlantic City. They have a drink together and talk of the past, especially their trip to the coast in their sophomore year. He then leaves the party in order to be alone and walks to their hotel. He falls asleep, thinking about how good earlier times were and how sick of life he is now. He is woken up by the voices of Alec and Jill, his girl friend who are hiding from the hotel detectives due to the Mann Act. Amory decides to sacrifice himself for Alec by saying he was with Jill and ordering Alec to act drunk. The detectives take Amory and Jill’s names and addresses and say the hotel will not turn them in to the police but will report the case to the newspaper.
Back in New York City, Amory finds the line in the newspaper, saying he was “entertaining in his room a lady not his wife” (p. 234). Directly above he finds the engagement announcement of Rosalind and Dawson Ryder, which clears up the illusion, she would ever turn back to him. In addition, his lawyer informs him, that he will not receive any more remittances because the family’s property is almost gone. On top of all this, he receives a telegram telling him of the sudden death of Monsignor Darcy.
Amory idles around in New York and looks at the people as they are ‘living’. He decides to walk towards Princeton and two men, whom one is rather rich, give him a ride. On their way, they start to argue about socialism with which Amory came up because only that could improve his situation. Amory says, money is the biggest problem and declares honor could replace money as stimulus to do work in a socialist society. They go on discussing several topics and it turns out, that the rich man is Mr. Ferrenby, the father of Jesse Ferrenby. They part and Amory continues his walk. On his way, he reviews his life and analyzes his selfishness as the only reason for him to do anything.
Finally, he reaches Princeton in the middle of the night, his mind clear and much wiser than he was when he came there the first time.
© 1999 by Timo Baumann at www.eichenblatt.de, all rights reserved.
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