The first book that appears in the show is the D.H. Lawrence classic and being passed around by Joan Holloway and a bunch of the secretaries. Peggy Olson comes in and eventually leaves with it.
Joan says of her pocket book in the scene, “it’s got a change of clothing and a toothbrush in it.”
The books in Mad Men are introduced and serve a variety of purposes. They almost always add layers to the plot, theme, characters and overall texture of the show. If you see a book in the show, think about why it is there and remember it, as often the book’s importance only reveals itself as the show goes along.
Better even, read it, and continue with the show.
Lawrence is perfect, and why not Chatterley?
Joan having the book and Peggy asking for it is a foreshadowing about some of the things we’re going to find out about both characters. Both characters, like Constance Reid in the novel, have a slew of relationships where their lovers emotionally neglect them rarely treating them as equals or as important as we as viewers find them. One that jumps out immediately is Joan’s marriage to Greg Harris, which is so cringingly hard to watch it very much mirrors Constance Reid and her paralyzed husband Clifford. Greg, coincidently enlists and is killed after being cuckolded himself.
Peggy’s relationships with Pete Campbell, Duck Phillips, Mark, Abe Drexler and a couple others are awful too in an incredible variety of ways. She gets it right in the end though, so stay tuned. Ugh. Duck. Not in your league Peggy.
Speaking of leagues, Constance’s affair with the gamekeeper Oliver Mellors is another aspect of Chatterley that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The affair is one of two classes, and one that just should not happen and never does… Oh, wait a second.
Upstairs with downstairs. Executive with secretary. Suit with bohemian artist. Class-breaking affairs are all over Mad Men, and the amount of characters who do it are too long to list in this simple post.
Side note: I’m writing these for people who have seen the show and don’t care about spoilers. The show finished in 2015, so if you haven’t seen it, well, you should. Plus, spoilers are for cliffhanger serials and not real art. This show is so cleverly written, any plot point spoiler is not going to take away from it. Rant over.
The place in time is important as well. Chatterley was banned for obscenity in the States and only published after 1959 thus making it a dirty treat for the secretaries. It’s why Joan and the girls are giggling and excited to pass it around like contraband. One of them warns Peggy not to read it on the train or “it’ll attract the wrong sort.”
It’s very fun watching a young Peggy and Joan in the early episodes as they grow to become two of the great female characters of television history. Both are complex, enticing, tragic and well-rounded, and would be right at home in a Lawrence book.
Joan, who in the first episode tells Peggy that hopefully she won’t have to work at all, caps this scene with a gem.
“I don’t care if it’s 500 years old,” says Joan. “It’s a testament to how most people think marriage is a joke.”
Of course, she’s having an affair with Roger Sterling (we find that out later: spoiler), so maybe she thinks that too deep down. Makes sense.
Oh, and the episode’s title. Don puts the radio to Mozart at the party later. I haven’t seen Figaro, but I’ll just copy/paste the Wikipedia entry on the synopsis:
The Marriage of Figaro continues the plot of The Barber of Seville several years later, and recounts a single “day of madness” (la folle journée) in the palace of Count Almaviva near Seville, Spain. Rosina is now the Countess; Dr. Bartolo is seeking revenge against Figaro for thwarting his plans to marry Rosina himself; and Count Almaviva has degenerated from the romantic youth of Barber into a scheming, bullying, skirt-chasing baritone. Having gratefully given Figaro a job as head of his servant-staff, he is now persistently trying to exercise his droit du seigneur – his right to bed a servant girl on her wedding night – with Figaro’s bride-to-be, Susanna, who is the Countess’s maid. He keeps finding excuses to delay the civil part of the wedding of his two servants, which is arranged for this very day. Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess conspire to embarrass the Count and expose his scheming. He retaliates by trying to compel Figaro legally to marry a woman old enough to be his mother, but it turns out at the last minute that she really is his mother. Through Figaro’s and Susanna’s clever manipulations, the Count’s love for his Countess is finally restored.
Dang. Okay. Someone else is free to unpack that one.
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