PPRL: In This Our Life, by Ellen Glasgow (winner, 1942)

In This Our Life veers back and forth between soap opera-worthy drama and stultifying existential meditation. The drama is compelling, and the reason I blasted through the second half of the novel in a day or two. The existential meditation - on the nature of happiness, on what it means to grow old and out of touch, on beauty vs. character - well, it's stultifying. There's an intriguing, depressingly timely secondary plot about racism which I think could have elevated the story immensely had it been further fleshed out. But (perhaps due to the book predating the Civil Rights Movement) the subject was only marginally, if poignantly, explored.

The novel was adapted into a film starring Bette Davis as the shallow, spoiled, selfish, husband-stealing Stanley* (odd choice of names, right? her sister is named Roy and I could find no explanation either in the book or online as to why the girls have traditionally male names). But other than the Davis connection it doesn't seem like In This Our Life is particularly well-known or popular. HOWEVER I'm still going to throw down some super basic questions for discussion/papers because those who can't teach, blog. Or something. (Shut up okay it's just fun for me.)

Again and again Glasgow stresses the dichotomy of young vs. old, old-fashioned vs. modern. How does this polarity manifest in the novel's characters? (Consider the handwringing and hindsight of the "old guard" vs. the naiveté and caprice of youth.) Conversely, what challenges are shared by both young and old alike? 

There are four major parent-child relationships in the novel (Asa-Stanley, Asa-Roy, Lavinia-Stanley, Lavinia-Roy). Choose two to compare and contrast. 

Explore the upstairs/downstairs (family/servants) element of the story. What do we learn about the characters from how one set perceives the other? What do their respective prejudices and notions say about themselves?

Discuss the theme of "do overs" in the novel (i.e., second chances, vicarious pleasures and living through one's children, etc). Compare it to the theme of regret / roads not taken.

Birds are a recurring visual motif in the novel. What do they represent? Freedom, obviously, but what about beyond that? Think migration (Stanley), nesting behavior (Lavinia), a sparing quality of consumption (Asa)...


*Fun fact: apparently Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro, was named after Davis's character (source).