The car and the city in the Magnificent Ambersons

Over Festivius break, I read The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington over the course of the break–a stunning, stunning book. That book was published in 1918! I can’t rave enough about it. Everything from the language to the meditation on youth and folly are lovely. Tarkington had incredible prescience about the changes that the car would have on the city and urban life:

Eugene Morgan, an inventor and improver of the automobile says at one point:

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization–that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all of outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes they will cause with some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to be invented.'”

and then, on industrialization and the city:

A new spirit of the citizenship had already sharply defined itself. It was idealistic, and its ideals were expressed in the new kind of young men in business downtown. They were optimists–optimists to the point of belligerence–their motto being “Boost! Don’t Knock!” And they were hustlers, believing in hustling and in honesty because both paid. They loved their city and worked for it with a plutonic energy which was always ardently vocal. They were viciously governed, but they sometimes went so far as to the struggle for better government on account of the helpful effect of good government on the price of real estate and “betterment” generally; the politicians could not go too far with them, and knew it. The idealists planned and strove and shouted that their city should become a better, better, and better city–and what they meant, when they used the word “better” was “more prosperous,” and the core of their idealism was this: “The more prosperous my beloved city, the more prosperous and beloved I!” They had one supreme theory: that the perfect beautiful and happiness of human life was to be brought about by more factories: they had a mania for factories; they was nothing they would not do to cajole a factory from another city; and they were never more piteously embittered when another city cajoled one away from them.

What they meant by Prosperity was credit at the bank; but in exchange for this credit they got nothing that was not dirty, and , therefore, to a sane mind, valueless; since whatever was cleaned was dirty again before the cleaning was half done. For as the town grew, it grew dirty with an incredible completeness.”

The passage goes on for a few more pages.

The Politics is the last piece of Aristotle I am planning to revisit before turning to other study, but I haven’t been racing through it by any means. It’s slow going, which is ok. Where else am I going? A nightclub?