Friday, April 09, 2010

Book: Auntie Mame

"But darling... I'm your Auntie Mame!"

Oh, who wouldn't love an Auntie Mame? I know I would. A rich, fabulous, irreverent, eccentric, idealistic, open-minded, quirky loving auntie to sweep you up and love you and concoct wild schemes and always, always come through for you... when she isn't pulling you into unfortunate escapades or making you break school rules or throwing you into inappropriate parties, that is.

(but still, you know you love every minute of it)

I've only ever seen the Rosalind Russell movie, so it was fun to read the book and have Mame a bit more fleshed out and her sharp, quirky ways elaborated upon. Mame is not only all about life's banquet (where at, she says in the movie but not the book, "most poor bastards are starving to death."), but she is about Art and all the good things life has to offer ALL people, not only the rich and fabulous. I loved that about Mame: she is open-minded and accepting to a fault (except there is NEVER a fault in that).

Even in the 1930s and 40s (the book was published in 1955), Mame fought prejudice and closed-mindedness, as excellently portrayed in the scene with young-adult Patrick's intended in-laws (where they are discussing the prospect of a Jewish family moving to the property next door):

"Buster," Auntie Mame said, "What's come over you? They're charming people. She's very dark and vivacious and one of the best cooks in..."

"I'll bet she's dark and vivacious. A greasy, thick-lipped, loud-mouthed little..."

"Oh, but you're all wrong there. Sylvia's divine, really, and Abe went to Harvard in the same class with Samuel..."

"You mean you really know these people?" Mr. Upson asked.

"But of course. He has a marvelous job with..."

"But they're Jews."

"Well, certainly they're Jews. She's related somehow to Rabbi Wise and he..."

"Can't you get it through your thick head that they're JEWS? That they want to move in right next to ME?" Mr. Upson said.

(more vile vitriol from Mr. Upson, and then...)

"Just how many Jews do you know personally, Claude?"

"I know all I want to, " he screamed. "Pushy, bossy, aggressive, loud..."

"As loud as you're being at this moment?"

"Goddamn it! I'm talking about a pack of kikes moving in and rubbing shoulders with nice people -- decent people!"

"And this is an example of your nicety? Your decency? ... I've known dozens of Jews in my life and it has also been my sorry experience to have heard quite a few gentiles who have talked about Jews as you do. I know all the adjectives -- all of them. Jews, you will tell me, are Mean, Pushy, Avaricious, Possessive, Loud, Vulgar, Garish, Bossy people. But I've yet to meet one, from the poorest pushcart vendor on First Avenue to the richest philanthropist on Fifth Avenue, who could hold a candle to you when it comes to displaying all of those qualities."

Wow. You tell him, Mame! I wanted to stand up and clap when I read this. To me, this is as good as any example of why it's so important continue to fight bigotry and ignorant hate, in whatever form it comes across your path. People who spew this sort of small-minded idiotic opinions are, as far as I'm concerned, simply reflecting the yuckiness inside themselves. And they need to be called on it, every single time. This sort of hatred creates evil in the world and we need as little of it as possible.

Anyway. Along with being pure liberal awesomeness, Mame is funny, vulnerable, fashionable, fabulous, loving, unrealistic, and pure fun. I loved reading this book and actually feel I learned a lot about how to conduct oneself in life. Even when you have lost everything ("Everything, darling!"), one must continue to go out and fight and do the very best you can, and what's more, help everyone you meet in whatever way you are able.

Mame is not perfect, not at all, and could be extremely maddening. And yet... how can you not love someone so full of life and goodwill and charm? Loved it, every sentence.

Fun fact: the author seems fascinating as well. A bohemian bisexual man, set loose in New York City (while still attempting to maintain a wife and children), he eventually retired from writing bestselling novels and became an "exemplary butler" to elite families in West Palm Beach and Chicago. So, apple perhaps not falling far from tree, if we can consider Mame an apple. (she's more of a peach, really)


Christy (A Good Stopping Point) said...

That sounds like a fun book! And it's refreshing to see an 'older' book that challenges bigotry on that level.

Tammie said...

i want to read this! what fun.

ive always wanted to be really wealthy so i could be considered eccentric and fun. when you're poor, eccentric=weird. :)

Lara Starr said...

Oh what a treat - I need to read this again and I'd watch the movie any day of the week!

Rachel Cotterill said...

Sounds like a fun read! And I love her defence against bigotry, that's fabulous :D

Stefanie said...

What fun! I'm going to have to read this one soon. Over the summer maybe. And then watch the movie. Great author fact too. I wonder if he became a sort of Jeeves?

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

I saw the movie, but haven't read the book. I really should. And I wish somewhere along the way, I had an Auntie Mame.

Daphne said...

Yes! Yes! You should all read it!! We should have an Auntie Mame club!