Nightmare Abbey, by Thomas Love Peacock
Deep in the fens of the British coast sits the gloomy mansion that goes by the name Nightmare Abbey. It is inhabited by persons of very low opinion of the human race, and in fact they pride themselves in the depths of their detestation. Others of its denizens believe the ultimate exercise and product of the human mind ought to be chaos.
Now let the young master of the house get snared by the wiles of a beautiful young lady. And for good measure, toss in another beautiful young lady. Now Scythrop (named in honor of an ancestor who became bored with life and hanged himself) is about to find that two such make too much of a good thing!
Peacock wrote Nightmare Abbey as a satire, and he has folded in allusions to or quotations from literally dozens of other works. He makes use of many long, impressive-sounding words (some of which he very possibly made up!). Ignore these and his occasional Latin phrase, treat the rest as a farce, and you’re on track for a fun listen!
The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington
In a world where a gentleman’s life is defined more “by being, rather than by doing,” a family’s reputation can be compromised if it is not guarded carefully, and the sole heir of the Amberson family is proving himself to be a difficult person. Expected by the family to carry on its proud traditions, George Amberson Minafer is trusted implicitly. But though rich relatives provide the elegant suits, the handsome young man who wears them is filled with little but appearances. And this happens in spite of, or perhaps, because of, his mother’s selfless love that places him above her own happiness.
As George’s uncle perceptively remarks, “life and money both behave like loose quicksilver in a nest of cracks.” With the new automobile industry transforming fortunes and coal heat transforming city air into sooty clouds, anything that stands still is apt to be run over, or at least begrimed.
What is magnificent about the Ambersons is their faithful reliance on old money and old ways in a world changing rapidly around them. Or perhaps it is the magnificence of the train-wreck created when George’s relatives, with the best intentions, shield him from the new realities and defer to all his wishes.
Booth Tarkington’s most popular novel, “The Magnificent Ambersons”, will continue to draw readers for its well-crafted portraits of what existed for just a short while – the MidWestern aristocracy.