Compson, Whitman, Draper: A name’s sound and fury

What’s in a name? What’s in a family? What is history? What is time?

I may or may not have just finished reading a certain author from the south and everything is up for grabs.

There are those books on the Mad Men reading list I’m curious to read (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Last Picture Show) those I may not have wanted to read at all (Atlas Shrugged), and those I’m completely stoked to read.

Woman of Rome, Crying of Lot 49, and (even though I’ve read it before) the Sound and the Fury are among the latter.

Let’s set the scene and find out how one of the 20th century’s finest novels wound up in one of the 21st century’s finest shows.

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Agency of fools, the madness of Madison Avenue

Don’s been kicked out and is living in a hotel, Marilyn Monroe is dead, and there are tears everywhere.

Betty, alone at home choring away in S2E09 (Six Month Leave), sits down with a glass of wine and reads Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools.

Sometimes, the Mad Men reading list gives you a title that is so on the nose, the discussion about the book writes itself.

Ship of fools… Hmmmm. I wonder how that could relate to the series, characters, themes and plot?

You could really take the title of this book and say it’s a direct allegory of those that inhabit Sterling Cooper’s halls. They are fools wandering about trying to navigate their Madison Avenue ship amid storms and calm waters.

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The pursuit of a toxic relationship and a car crash

In S2E03 (The Benefactor), Don leaves his children in front of the TV (Betty is out flirting with Arthur Chase at the riding stable), and goes to the study to make a call. He calls Bobbie Barrett (Melinda McGraw), the wife of Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler), who is on her bed with a book: Herman Wouk’s best-selling novel Marjorie Morningstar.

The book’s plot leads us to a comparison with the show: the pursuit of toxicity. The relationship in the series – Don and Bobbie – and the one in the book – Marjorie and Noel – are both toxic, and we yell at the screen and pages with the same refrain: STOP IT!

Don fooled around with Bobbie earlier in S2E03 in his car after Don put up a half-assed attempt to hold her off: “Don’t. I don’t want to do this.” Whatever Don. You’re weak and you know it.

Bobbie and Don’s relationship in the intense and dark category exemplified when Don grabs and sexually assaults Bobbie in the rest room at one point.

“Believe me. I will ruin you.”

– Don

Intense, dark, disturbing.

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Hornblower the hero and broken men without honour

Peggy is visiting her sister, Anita, in S2E08 (A Night to Remember) and drops off C.S. Forester’s Hornblower in the West Indies for Anita’s husband, Gerry Respola, who’s laid up with a “bad back” and “hates his job.”

Gerry isn’t in the episode and no one’s seen reading the book, but it’s on screen, so I read it.

Basic summary: Horatio Hornblower is Commander-in-chief of His Majesty’s ships and vessels in the West Indies and trying to keep order in the post-Napoleonic War world. He fights pirates, revolutionaries, a hurricane and all the things you’d expect in a swashbuckling, sea-faring, tall ship adventure.

He is full of honour, does the right thing, and is loyal to his doting wife and son.

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The diamond Betty Draper and the sadness inside

It took us a season and change, but ladies and gents, it’s time to dig into some Fitzgerald.

Feels like Gatzby should have made its way into the plot by now, but I’ll take a short story. Let’s do it.

In S2E03 (The Benefactors) Arthur Chase (the hunky young horse rider Betty flirts with played by Gabriel Mann) says to Betty after a day of riding:

“You know the Scott Fitzgerald story “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz?” Her house is a slightly smaller version of my high school, and I realized why she was so happy all the time and she was so angry when she didn’t get what she wanted.”

(Arthur’s talking about his fiancee).

“All girls are like that,” Betty responds.

Classic Betty.

Arthur is sure, as all men are in these situations, he knows what Betty is thinking, and that Better must want him. Betty, Arthur “knows,” is not like that.

Betty snaps back, “You don’t know me.”

Arthur says she’s “so profoundly sad.”

“You’re wrong. I’m grateful.”

LIAR!

Continue reading “The diamond Betty Draper and the sadness inside”

It’s taking forever, the agony and ecstasy of it all

Two episodes into the second season of Mad Men and Peggy is visiting her mom and sister in Brooklyn. After an awkward meal full of undertones, nagging, guilt and jabs (you know mother-daughter-sister stuff), Peggy asks her mom (Katherine played by Myra Turley) if she has anything to drop off or pick up at the library.

“I have to renew the Agony and the Ecstasy. It’s taking forever,” says her mom.

And there it is, another book for the list.

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Ayn Rand and Dick Whitman’s dropped Zippo

This one almost ended the reading list before it got out of the gates.

Bertram Cooper calls Don into his office in S01E08 (The Hobo Code), tells him to take his shoes off and then offers him a huge bonus ($2,500).

Then he says the following:

“Have you read her? Rand. Atlas Shrugged. That’s the one… When you hit 40 you realize you’ve met or seen every kind of person there is, and I know what kind you are because I believe we are alike. By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man and completely self-interested. It’s strength. We are different; unsentimental about all the people that depend on our hard work.”

-Bertram Cooper

Well great.

I had no interest in picking up another Ayn Rand book after ploughing through The Fountainhead (because a friend insisted I “had to” read it), and I certainly didn’t have a tonne of appetite for Rand’s final novel: the “dramatization of her unique vision of existence and of man’s highest potential,” her 12-year project, her longest book (1,168 pages), the tome of tomes: Atlas Shrugged.

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Misogyny, mavens, misconceptions and the typing pool

Throughout Mad Men, books appear that are a direct reflection of characters or the period they live in. There are books characters are reading in which, in a real meta moment, characters feature that are the templates of themselves.

Mad Men is, in essence, a period piece, and props in any period piece are essential. Viewers will turn on a show if a character glances at a digital wristwatch, is leafing through a copy of Game of Thrones or a is wearing a pair of Jordan VIs.

Just check out the list of goofs people spotted if you’re unsure. Gotta respect the how much people care. Heck, I’m one of them, so I ain’t complaining.

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Israel, community, utopia and the other

There are two books in this episode, and I am starting with the one that comes second in the episode: Exodus.

Am I the only one that cares enough to mention that? Probably.

Anyway…

Exodus, by Leon Uris is the book that started the Mad Men reading project for me. The book was, as I’ve written before, sitting on my bookshelf when I was watching the episode (S01E06, Babylon) for the second time, and because it played such a prominent role in the episode, and I hadn’t read the book, I stopped watching, read it and continued on.

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Bedtime stories, Betty the princess and an error

After delving and diving into D.H. Lawrence in episode three of the first season, we get a quaint bedtime story in episode four read by Betty Draper (January Jones) in her sultry and soothing voice I dare anyone not to drift off into a lovely dream after hearing.

We have, ladies and gents, our first fairy-tale in Mad Men.

“Church bells rang out and the air was full of flying birds.

What a joyous parade it was back at the palace.

No king could command anything finer.”

– Betty (S01E04, New Amsterdam)

Bobby is crashed out and Sally is wrapped in attention as Betty reads the final lines of a story in Nursery Friends From France (translated by Olive Beaupre) in S01E04 (New Amsterdam). One thing, I read the entire book and never found those lines. If anyone knows what nursery rhyme this comes from, I’d love to hear where it came from. I never found those specific lines in the version I read.

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